Chapter 1



Eyeless, noseless, fingerless and-- Marie crossed her legs in empathy-- dickless, bloated with water and God only knew what the Hudson had brewed in its two hundred plus years of industrial disregard for life, the body was barely recognizable as human. A dozen yards away, someone was vomiting. Probably several someones. The sour smell added to the maleficence of the scene.

This winter, sleet and mud flavoured New York City. Nothing so picturesque as Rockefeller Centre or the Chrysler Building iced with snow this year. No, the city was just wet and cold. Marie pulled her wool coat tighter around her neck to prevent more ninja ice particles from sneaking down her back. She breathed on her double-gloved hands for some momentary warmth. They'd hauled in a lot of frozen homeless bodies the past few months. No doubt they'd haul in a few more. At least they'd be in one piece.

A cop in blues jogged to her side, probably more to generate heat than out of any sense of urgency. Marie had flashed her creds at the police line, but she took her badge out again just in case. There were a lot of sickos out there who would want to poke around a mutilated body for fifteen minutes of fame and a hundred bucks on the latest social media sites.

"I wish I could say your iron stomach is a relief, detective," said the cop, Lieutenant Mudaffer according to his badge. "But something tells me this isn't the first time you've seen a body look like this."

"The penis is new," said Marie. "The vic having a penis, I mean. And cutting it off. The mutilation's deliberate; fish and crabs wouldn't leave a clean slice like this unless they've learned to use knives and forks down there."

"The things I've seen in the past twenty years, detective, I wouldn't be surprised if they did," said Mudaffer. "Someone dragged the duffel out of the water in the middle of the night-- probably a hobo looking to score a few useful things. We figured he opened it up, saw the body, and left. As soon as it was light enough out, a group of joggers tripped into it. Literally."

"Wouldn't want to see their therapy bills."

"No, ma'am."

"DNA checks out as mutant?"

Lieutenant Mudaffer blinked. "Erm. He's got striped fur."

"Freak is the new cool. Ziff gives users temporary powers. The latest bodmods can give you ears, tails, and scales. When I was a kid, I knew someone who'd pay two hundred bucks a month to wax all her body hair off. Now you can get fur extensions. Run DNA."

"Yes, ma'am." He signalled for a crime scene tech.

Marie crouched closer to the body. She pulled her every-day gloves off in favour of a pair of nitrile ones from the techs. Her usual gloves had to be waterproof but breathable and thin enough to be useful. Expensive as hell, of course. Good thing she had acquaintances in high places like the Xavier's Institute. To be honest, she thought Hank McCoy appreciated the occasional biochemistry puzzle to break up the monotony of saving the world with his giant brain.

Using long-nosed pliers, Marie lifted the neckline of the vic's shirt then the hem to assess for signs of assault. No visible bruising but there were a few lighter coloured lines along his stomach that might have been old scars. Marie made a mental note to ask about that in the autopsy. He didn't have pants or underwear on.

"Any clue if he'd been raped?" asked Marie. "Hard to tell from the way the body's lying."

"We haven't checked that yet," said Lieutenant Mudaffer.

"Don't mind if I do the honours." She waved to the nearest tech. "Push one of his knees up."

The tech obeyed, though with some difficulty.

"Rigor?" Marie asked.

"Or bloat," said the tech. "Flesh is real boggy. Makes joint manipulation as much of a bitch as rigor. I hate drownings."

"Yeah, give me a nice, straight-forward burial any day. Water messes everything up." Marie spread the victim's buttocks apart. "No visible external trauma which could mean there was no rape or the water washed away any recent evidence."

"He could be a hooker. Regular, long-term anal intercourse means his body would have adjusted," said Lieutenant Mudaffer.

"We'll just have to chalk this up as one more thing for the coroner to enlighten us with. We can't afford to be sloppy with this case. Let's not assume this is the same asshole as the one I'm tracking down."

"They're all assholes."

Marie managed a grin. "I like to think of assholes as a small, vocal minority. Helps me stick to one drink a night."

"MacTac's holding this one pretty close to its chest," said Mudaffer.

"Not on purpose." She looked around for eavesdroppers before continuing. "You gonna pick up this case for your house?"

"Depends. Is it gonna go through our house?"

"I heard great things about your coroner. We'd like to work with her. If you can clear that, we can see about processing the MacTac cases through the 32nd."

Mudaffer raised his eyebrows. "I'll see what I can do. What can you tell me about this case?"

"In the past three months, MacTac brought four bodies into our caseload," said Marie. "We fished two of them on our side of the Hudson, one on the Bronx side of the Harlem River, and one just under the Roosevelt Bridge. All between the ages of seventeen and twenty-five, all Level 2 or 3 physical mutations, and a high probability that all worked as prostitutes. Same kind of mutilation: noses, ears, fingers, and toes cut off and eyeballs pierced through like grapes. Until this vic, all women."

"Sounds organized to me."

Marie opted to change the subject slightly. "Was this still in the duffel when the joggers found him?"

"Half out. The hobo or whoever seemed desperate enough to go through a dead man's--"


Lieutenant Mudaffer raised his eyebrows questioningly.

"This is a boy," Marie explained. "Maybe late teens or early twenties. He doesn't have the mass of a grown man."

"Could be malnutrition if he grew up a runaway."

"Features are too soft for a runaway. Unmarked. You live on the street that long, you look fifty by the time you're twenty-five. This one, despite his disfigurement, still scans pretty easily as a young adult." She turned the victim's left arm over. Blue-violet scabs decorated the inside of his elbows and forearms where his fur grew thinner. Larger, ragged scars marred the backs on his hands. "Trackmarks."

"Good old fashioned heroin," Lieutenant Mudaffer remarked.

"Still fucking people up after three hundred years. They should make it a tagline. The heroin's consistent with my previous vics anyway. But then so are half the bodies that end up in the fridge. What else have you got for me?"

"We're dredging the river downstream for about a mile to account for the currents. So far nothing suspicious."

"Thanks for trying anyway. You know my number and email. Let me know if you do find anything; I'll be dropping by your precinct--"

"Who the hell are you?"

Marie couldn't see the bellower but if Lieutenant Mudaffer's eye roll was anything to go by, the new guy's pomposity was par for the course. She really didn't have time for turf war bullshit. Not with a case to solve. Turning sharply on her heel, she zeroed on the source of the shouting. Navy suit, artfully bland haircut, shiny leather shoes. Never trust a cop with shiny-as-new shoes. Even IA mucked up their knees for work; only the middle-management douchenozzles dodged street grime.

She flashed her creds. "Detective Marie D'Ancanto, MacTac. I have reason to believe this--"

"And who gave you jurisdiction over this crime scene?"

"Well, first of all, as a detective second-class in the great city of New York, any major crime is part of my jurisdiction should the nearest detectives be unavailable. Secondly--"

"How do you know they're unavailable if you come charging in here without going up the appropriate chain-of-command?"

Marie unclenched her jaw. "Secondly, before I was so rudely interrupted, the Mutant Crimes Task Force have primary jurisdiction over any crimes committed against or by mutants in all the boroughs of New York City. So, in fact, I am the appropriate chain-of-command. You're welcome."

Shiny Shoes McDouchnozzle fumbled with his goatee. "Mutant crimes, huh? You're sure about that?"

"Vic's got fur," Lieutenant Mudaffer offered with facetious politesse.

"I have everything I need so far from this excellent crew who've been here for at least two hours," said Marie. "I just told Lieutenant Mudaffer over here that I'll be in contact in the near future since this case might be related to something on my desk."

"You can contact me." Shiny Shoes handed over a business card. "Sergeant Cartwright, 32nd Precinct. Is it a big case?"

Marie tucked the card into a pocket. She needed a new bookmark. Those contacts she actually used, she kept in her brain, backed up by her phone. One more prize from Xavier's, the phone had unparalleled security. Kitty Pride upgraded it yearly for fun. The phone itself had been her final project for her Master's degree.

"I'll call tomorrow morning to see if the coroner's gotten around to this one before I drop by," she said.

"What, you aren't coming around right now?" Sergeant Cartwright asked.

"Gotta get back to work. I just came over because I was in the area."

"Isn't this work?"

Marie grinned, showing off all her teeth.

With the except of Mutant Town-- also known as District X, formerly known as Alphabet City-- the outer boroughs were the "rough" parts of New York City. Manhattan itself had to stay sparkly for the camera-wielding tourists and the deep-pocketed suits. Harlem and SoHo were picturesquely destitute, the exposed brick fronts hiding modern condos. The oldest Chinatown in the continent was only for show; the real East-Asian hub now lay in Queens.

Despite the "clean-up" in 1990s and the post-9/11 rebuilding, Manhattan could never really let go of its seedy corners. Pharmaceutical experts sold drug cocktails traded in Harlem, prostitutes met with web-sourced clients in Murray Hill, crackers hacked accounts with portable card readers in the Financial District. These were Marie's cases, the hands-on, paperwork-slogging cases. The ones that barely registered a blip online any more with the exception of her latest.

She had wanted this mutilation case as soon as it came down the pipe. Not because she needed to prove herself, not because the police commissioner hinted at a commendation if MacTac closed the case quickly and quietly, and not because too many mutants in her old beat had to turn to prostitution to survive.

Well, not just because of those reasons.

After four months of dead ends, she started this undercover op. Of the half-dozen women at MacTac, only she and Charlotte Jones had the training for the job. Charlotte was playing captain though which was how Marie found herself walking the streets of the Bronx tonight, for the sixteenth night in a row, wearing poorly-made fetish gear that did nothing to protect her from the weather.

The real working girls were out here, a far cry from the pampered escorts just across the water. Those women were practically unionized. The contacts Marie had were haggard, usually brain-fried to forget about work, with smiles as dead as the bodies in the morgue. She touched a couple of them by accident when her reflexes failed her. It was no hardship to play the deadness inside after that.

Her powers worked pretty funny after the Senator Trask-Ziff case over a year (nineteen months and twelve days) ago. Thanks to one Karl Lycos, AKA Sauron, jacking her powers back on as well as her complete abstinence from the mutation-negating drug, Novomane, her powers were back and then some. No more skin-to-skin contact unless she wanted to absorb someone; she had to stay covered up all the time. Not an easy task when as posing as a hooker but something about absorbing Sauron allowed her to tap into the powers. Never to the fullest extent of the original mutant but enough to be useful which was why she could go around as a reptilian mutant hooker called Liz without being recognized as Detective D'Ancanto who walked along the same streets as a beat cop five years ago.

"Hey, hey, hey, girl."

Marie looked up. The woman approaching had lanky blonde hair and caverns dug out under her cheekbones. "Hey, Skids. Got a smoke?"

"Sure, yeah, sure, sure, here, sure." Skids held out a pack of mostly new cigarettes, her hands trembling with cold or a high. Marie chose the cleanest looking one. "I'd've thought you'd have some. You usually do. You do. That whipping thing, that really work, huh? I'd do that if it works."

Marie lifted her riding crop. "This thing? You get the right john, it's not bad. Sometimes you don't even gotta fuck; they just jizz all over themselves. Takes fucking forever. Gimme a ten-second hand-job any day."

"Why'd you do it then?"

"Gets 'em all randy."

Skids giggled. "So, hey, I heard there was this party over in Brighton Beach. Lots of candy. Lots of johns wanting mutie pootie. Told 'em I knew a couple girls perfect for the job."

"You fucking bitch, you going into pimping now? You gonna want a cut of this?" Marie teased, giving her own breasts a squeeze.

"Aw, put that away, bitch, I ain't touching that for less than a Benjamin. I'm doing you a favour. It's a favour. I'm doing you a favour here and, y'know, you do the same for me, right?"

"Sure I will, sugar. Party's on now?"

"Yeah! Pinhead's gonna give us a ride. You know Pinhead? He's a good one. Shit with his pecker, great with weed. But ain't that always the case, huh? Your man better be good in the sack, good in the wallet, or good with the vitamins. He gotta be good, huh, Liz?" Skids eyed Marie with a suddenly clear, critical eye. "Don't know if you can go in there like that. Not enough skin. How'd they know you're a mutant without skin?"

"I look like a fucking snake, Skids," said Marie. "Where's Pinhead now?"

Skids held up a phone. "I'll give him a call. He probably has Blitzen right now. You know Blitzen?"

"The one with the hooves and the big red eyes?"

"That's her. John's'll probably want to fucking, I dunno, lick her feet or some shit. Fucking johns."

"No thanks."

Skids cracked out another laugh. "You're funny, Liz. It's why I like you. It's why I share my smokes with you. You're funny."

Pinhead's car eased around the corner, its bass stereo thumping. Pinhead wasn't that high up the ladder. His showiness gave his insecurity away. Still, he was a small time rat with a couple big time connections. Marie slipped into the car and turned the tracker in her phone on as she pretended to fumble with her seatbelt. Someone at MacTac would do a GPS round eventually. She hoped.

The party was in a club on the first floor of an early twentieth century building on the edges of the Financial District, tall and narrow with all sorts of furbelows in every available cranny. It was run down, though, like an operatic diva gone to graze, and not a single cherub was left un-chipped in feature or clothing. Marie, Skids, and Blitzen helped each other up the stamped concrete stairs. Blitzen, higher than a satellite, pressed the doorbell but couldn't quite let go, not even when the door opened. The doorman-- he couldn't be anything else with that brick-wall build-- lifted her clear off the front stoop and held her in midair.

"Pinhead sent us," said Skids.

Marie simpered as best she could.

The doorman grunted and deposited Blitzen into the foyer. She crumpled into one corner, giggling. Marie had to step over her to get in the club. Part of her wanted to call Jones or Thomas so they could escort her to MacTac's one drunk tank. Another part had a feeling this party could be a big break in her case. She gave Blitzen a small wave, said a prayer to the gods of cops and criminals, and walked deeper into the building.

While the exterior was crumbling into disrepair, the sumptuousness of the interior set Marie's heart thudding. Xavier's and its subsidiaries furnished with nothing less than four star, and a few of her cases in Manhattan had involved rich clientele. She recognized high-end furnishing when she saw it. Those Art Deco side tables seemed authentic. That painting looked like something she saw at the MOMA. The men milling about wore bespoke suits or designer jeans. Skids immediately flopped onto the lap of the nearest man. He squeezed her thigh. Marie hung back a bit, scanning the crowd for a safer looking target. Someone who looked like he wasn't packing or had no idea what to do with his dick.

"Pinhead's girls," the doorman said from behind her.

The crowd parted for a man, physically average but with an air of dangerous confidence that made him seem taller and larger around the shoulders. The last time Marie met a man like that, he ended up being the king of a multistate gang.

"Pinhead always knows the most beautiful girls. What's your name, sweetheart?"

"Liz," said Marie.

He actually threw his head back when he laughed. "Of course it is. I forgot you mutants like to take up your own names. Well, Liz, you look like you're pretty fun at a party. You actually know how to use that?" He nodded at her ever-present riding crop.

Marie cocked her hips to one side, dipping her chin to look at him through her reptilian lids. "I sure can, sugar. You been a bad boy?"

"All the time, sweetheart. No other type of boy to be." He placed a hand on her back, leading her deeper into the bowels of the house. "Much as I like your get-up, I think you'd look a lot better in a pretty dress."

"I... don't like to show my skin," said Marie.

"Ah. You mean your lovely complexion." He ran the back of his hand along her arm. Marie held her breath. She could keep her powers at bay for a few minutes, three at the most if she prepped with meditation. As long as this guy didn't want to make out, she'd be fine. If she kept him interested with her dominatrix act, she'd have a good chance of getting info while playing keep-away.

Pulling out the drawl from her childhood, the one she had painstakingly flattened into neutral tones, she said, "I ain't ever heard anyone call it lovely."

"Well, my dear, you can say I'm all for mutant rights. I appreciate your people's individuality and I personally think you've had a bad rap."

"That's... that's mighty nice of you to say."

"But put up or shut-up, right?" He laughed again. "My name's Stefan, by the way. Look, there's no pressure. Enjoy the party, the food, and the goodies. Give a few of my guests a good time. If I like what I see, I promise you'll be living a better life that you are now."

"Yeah? What's that mean?"

"It means this." Stefan spread his arms wide. "Party with the norms, no lines, no limits. The people I know don't just tolerate you; they love you. So get your sweet ass on the dance floor and show these people a thing or two about how mutants party."

Skids hollered from the other end of the room, a bottle of champagne raised in celebration. Amidst cheering, she poured it all over herself and all the others sitting on the couch with her. A flash went off as someone else took pictures. The stereo system thumped more bass as the DJ worked his tech, sending the walls vibrating. The party was a disco ball short of a real good time.

Marie made her way to a spare space on the dance floor. Not too many other bodies writhed out there. This late in the party, no one even pretended to be interested in dancing, at least not vertical dancing with clothing on. A few couples were already making a go of it on the couches by the walls. Absolutely nasty. She was too old and too jaded to think that kind of activity was anywhere near sexy.

Several times, men and women rubbed up against her. Marie eventually learned not to hold her breath. She was covered head-to-toe in pink and black nylon. Unless they pulled her in for a kiss-- a move a few of them tried but Marie was well-versed in gentle rejection-- there was no chance of her absorbing anyone. Occasionally, she used the riding crop on people who couldn't be pushed away, another advantage of having the whole whip and leather get-up. She still sucked at dancing. Good thing no one was paying attention. One of the many advantages of having what Jubilee referred to as badonkadonk; she could just shimmy and people thought it still looked good.

Marie also observed as she danced. The customers were easy to spot for the most part. They enjoyed themselves with open honesty, drinking, eating, and dancing. In contrast, the entertainment, working girls and boys like she pretended to be, laughed a little too heartily, danced a little too sexily. The bouncers, of course, couldn't crack a smile if their life depended on it. Three men in particular seemed to be in charge. There was Stefan who'd talked to her near the entrance. High class pimps tended to have a salesman-like quality to them thus increasing the sleaze factor inherent in salesmen to begin with. In one of the central couches sat a man in a three-piece suit, smoking a cigarette. A woman on his right, either baseline or non-physically mutated, held a goblet of wine. At some unknown signal, she raised the glass to the man's lips for a sip. A young man on his left massaged his shoulders and pressed soft kisses to his jaw, not that he was paying much attention. In a far corner of the main room, perched on a bench with a bottle of beer, was another man significant only in his blandness. No one could possibly come to a club like this dressed in business casual at best to drink local beer. This was a place to see and be seen.

She already made contact with Stefan, and so had more of a chance of soliciting a conversation. She started to make her way back to him when all the lights snapped on. A whiny mutter went through the party-goers until a voice on loudspeakers shouted, "This is the NYPD. Everyone put your hands up and no one will get hurt."

Marie groaned. Of all the goddamned awful timing! She followed the crowd, pushing to the side exits, away from the invading police force. Stefan had melted from sight as soon as the cops spoke. The man in the three-piece suit was making his way to a side exit, pulling the young man with him. The woman who'd been serving him wine was several feet in front of him, already out the door, the wine glass still in her hand. The only person of interest left was the bland guy in the corner. He still sat on his bench, taking as much interest-- or lack thereof-- in the police raid as he had in the drugged-up gyrating bodies on the dance floor. He met her eye for a moment. Marie looked away immediately. She needed to remember his face but not at the risk of him identifying her as something other than a hooker.

Blues plugged up the main entrance. Party-goers crammed the two side exits five rows deep; there was no leaving through there for a good ten minutes. A half dozen individuals were making their way up some stairs; she highly doubted the possibility of any rooftop escapes. There really was no other option.

Marie held her hands up as soon as she saw the first cop enter the room. Her undercover op was deep enough that MacTac couldn't clear her in normal raids until such a time when those files could harm her or the op. She sure hoped they had a warm lock-up in this precinct.

next chapter
previous chapter