sulky, baby-faced little gremlin

I think I love cities. I love it that no one looks at me funny when I wear my sunglasses inside. I love it wearing my sunglasses inside, because no one looks at me funny for my demon eye.

We met Cooper at the same diner he brought us to that first night.

“So…” he said when we slid into the booth with him. “Cannibals huh?”

Neal smirked. “Saw that, did ya?” he said, lightly, as if it was some grand adventure, totally divorced from all three of us sleeping in the rabbit for the last four nights in a row.

Usually I like the reminder that this is an epic adventure. Sometimes, it’s just annoying.

“I work with some boys who would love to be the ones who found you,” Cooper said.

“And you?” Julian asked.

“I figured it was some misunderstanding.” Cooper hesitated when none of us answered for a moment too long. “It was a misunderstanding, right?”

Neal just laughed. “What do you have for us?”

God, they’re such drama queens. What are we gaining from making Cooper wonder if we ate people???? Literally nothing except ✨vibes✨. And Neal is definitely the instigator, but Julian didn’t correct him.

“Not much more than I told you on the phone,” Cooper said. “We had another death last night. Same MO, but no new evidence. The girl was 25. Tox screen came back with just a little cocaine, which is unsurprising considering her lifestyle. Had to push hard for more thorough screening, and that came back clean, too. No arsenic, no heavy metals, no evidence of any plant poisons. No poison whatsoever.”

“Undetectable poison?” I asked, with, in retrospect, perhaps more enthusiasm than appropriate.

“No such thing, really,” Cooper replied. “Anything can be screened for, and we ran all the tests. Pulled just about every favor I had to get it done. They didn’t even find anything unidentifiable. Publicly they’re blaming her death on a blood clot caused by her birth control, but what the medical examiner actually said is that a blood clot most likely caused her heart attack, though he found no actual evidence of a blood clot being present.”

“Who was the girl?” Julian asked.

Cooper passed us a manila folder. “Family trees are in there, but the short version is that she’s the youngest daughter of the Valentina family. Old family mob connections, but her record was mostly clean. Handful of parking and speeding tickets, and a possession charge from a couple years ago, but apart from that, she seems to be clean as a whistle.”

“So you don’t think this was a hit?” Julian asked.

“No, I do,” Cooper replied. “I think whoever is putting these hits out is using the younger family members to threaten their actual targets.”

He laid out his whole theory with some help from his folder. Obviously, he lost me pretty much immediately — like, what do I know about crime families, or their politics? The investigation was a whole dizzying web of motivations and dead mobsters, but judging by Julian’s furrowed brow, I gathered that at least one of us tracked Cooper’s theory.

“Do you know who’s doing the hits?” Neal asked.

“Yeah,” Cooper replied grimly. He pulled a photo from the back of the folder. “This is Georgie Belsavic.” It was a sort of blurry street photo of totally average middle-aged man with a duffel bag.

“This guy, huh,” Neal said.

“Yeah. Don’t let his suburban dad get-up fool you, he’s set up to inherit Mutimir Beslavic’s empire.”

“I know that name,” Julian said.

I did not know that name.

“Yeah,” Cooper said. “He was enormously powerful in the 80s, before the Valentina’s started gaining traction.”

“So you think this guy is out to regain some of the family’s old glory?” Neal said.

“That’s my assumption,” Cooper said. “The morning after Bethany’s death, Richard Valentina made a very public, very large donation to a hospital the Beslavic’s funded in the 80’s.”

“Why?”

“I can’t be sure, but if I had to guess, I’d say the Beslavics have their edge back, and you know the Valentinas didn’t just give it to them.”

Julian leaned back in the booth, rubbing his scruffy chin thoughtfully. “So you think the Beslavics have already won.”

“That’s right,” Cooper said. “I doubt we’ll see more deaths like this, if I’m honest. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t seek justice.” The Hawthornes didn’t say anything for long enough that Cooper got self-conscious. “Do you disagree?”

“No,” Julian reassured him. “But I have to warn you.” He cleared his throat and leaned forward to steeple his fingers. “Even if we catch this guy, he’s unlikely to face any real consequences. You know that, right?”

Cooper hesitated. “What do you mean?”

“We know what he’s using to kill these people,” Julian explained. “But it’s not something you’ll be able to use in court.”

“Well, maybe not exactly,” Cooper said. “But —”

“What are we gonna do,” Neal said. “Bring in an otherworldly creature that no one has ever seen before and tell them that it’s responsible for the murders?”

Cooper said nothing.

“We can find this creature, and take it somewhere safe, where it can’t hurt anyone,” Julian said. “But there’s nothing we can do about your guy. Unless you can catch him for something else, he’s going to walk.”

“I don’t accept that,” Cooper said.

Neal shrugged. “I’m afraid you’re gonna have to.”

Cooper didn’t like that, but he swallowed it.

“The first thing we need to do,” Neal said. “Is find him.”

Cooper managed a wry laugh. “That shouldn’t be a problem. I know where he lives.”

Paying Georgie Belsavic a visit was easier said than done. He’s taken abundant precautions to be certain that no one unexpected can get on his land.

He lives in this big-ass gated house uptown, complete with ivy and guards with guns.There were people keeping an eye on the perimeter of the house, not to mention all the cameras, so there was truly no getting in.

Neal was not to be deterred though. “First things first,” he said, and went to dig Georgie’s trash bins. “No point in carrying this mess on if we’re wrong about what he’s got in there.”

“What are we looking for exactly?” Cooper asked, up to his elbows in rich man’s trash.

“If it’s a fawn, there will be — ah yes,” Neal said, grinning, holding up a bag of what it took me a minute to realize was either the smallest deer or the biggest rabbit poops I’ve ever seen.

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” Cooper said, which summed up my feelings on the matter.

“The creature he’s got in there can’t be let outside,” Julian explained. “If it gets scared, it could kill someone. But something’s got to be done about it’s droppings.”

“So you know for certain?”

“That’s right,” Neal said, tossing the poo bag back into the dumpster. “We’re set to go.”

Cooper wanted to storm the gates immediately, and considering he’s got super powers that was an actual option. But Neal and Julian insisted on waiting. “No, if we make a grand entrance in there, we’ll all die,” Julian said. “When we go in, we go in quiet, invited, and wearing muted colors. And when we get there, you let us take the lead.”

“Muted colors?” Cooper asked.

“What we’re dealing with startles easy,” Neal said.

So we got back in the car. It wasn’t late. There was still lots of potentially for Georgie to do something interesting. It looked like we were gonna have a nice long stakeout night.

“So how have you been doing?” Julian asked. “…with… everything.”

Cooper laughed.

“Your friend Jade,” he said. “Is a damn bitch.”

Neal laughed. “You’re not wrong there, my friend.”

“She’s got the answers I’ve been looking for though,” Cooper said. “Some of the history of this curse, I mean —” he shrugged. “But you know, of course, this is all old news to you two.”

Cooper didn’t seem to notice the Hawthornes exchange a glance, but I sure did.

“And Cosima?”

Cooper laughed aloud. “And Cosima,” he mimicked. “All casual? That’s how you’re gonna approach that whole bombshell?”

Julian smiled wryly. “You got a better way?”

“No, man,” he said. “I don’t. And if I’m honest… I mean fuck, I guess I’m glad I don’t have to keep it secret from absolutely everyone in my old life.” He massaged his temple. “Jade did say that in the past Dog Saints tend to meet each other by coincidence. Apparently that’s part of the spell. That we all get tangled together.”

“That right?” Julian said.

“I mean, you must know more than me,” Cooper said.

Neal shrugged, slightly uncomfortable. “Not really.”

“We prefer a hands-off approach to the world of chosen-one spells,” Julian explained, slightly more diplomatically, but with much more venom.

“Can I ask why?”

They hesitated before Julian finally answered: “The nature of my power is… a bit complicated. I only needed to hear so many stories about previous people with the same power as mine murdering the people they love.”

“Oh. Shit.”

“Yeah.”

“How is Cosima doing?” Neal asked, before it could get awkward. “We didn’t get to talk to her much.”

Cooper shrugged. “She’s pretending that this is all beyond belief,” he said. “But the truth is, I think Cosima has always had the grim understanding that she was meant for… I mean maybe not this exactly. But something like this.” He shrugged. “I don’t know how to explain it. But I mean… I’ve always known to a certain extent that I was meant to serve people somehow.”

Neal snorted. “So you became a cop?”

“Yeah, well,” Cooper said. “There was a lot I didn’t know about how the law works when I started my night gig.”

“You mean the vigilante justice thing.”

Cooper gave him a look. “Yeah. That.” He shrugged. “I had to get my feet under me somehow. I needed to know where the law failed. I needed to know what I can and can’t do to get convictions. It was this or law school, and at the end of the day I have bills to pay. I don’t plan to be a cop forever.”

Neal shifted in his seat. “You know,” he said. “I mean, it’s a big choice, no pressure, but it wouldn’t take much to get you enrolled with the same deal we have. You’d have resources. Connections.”

“Yeah, no, Jade’s working on me,” he said. “But I’m not ready to stop hunting the every day criminals. For every Georgie Belsavic, there are a hundred other guys doing fucked up shit with no magic nonsense whatsoever. I’ll keep handling them as long as I can. And for what it’s worth, that’s where Cosima stands, as well.”

“Fair enough,” Julian said.

There was a long moment of somewhat awkward quiet in the car.

“You know who would have us inside there in ten minutes flat?” Neal sighed, squinting at the barely visible gates from across the street.

“Cara,” Julian agreed.

“Who’s Cara?” Cooper asked.

“No one I’m going to tell a cop about,” Neal said and passed Julian the binoculars. “There’s no busting into a place like that. We’re gonna have to play a long game.”

And literally as he said it, the gates opened and a town car rolled out into the street. A girl was standing up, so her top half was out of the sun roof, despite the freezing air. She was dressed to the nines, drinking champaign, and as we watched, was tugged into the car, giggling.

💡💡💡

“Don’t even think about it, Shiloh,” Neal said.

But if they didn’t want me to think about it, they shouldn’t have brought up Cara.

“I’ll just meet them at a club,” I said. “Flirt a LITTLE BIT. Just a little!! Just to try and get in!”

Julian and Neal exchanged a glance.

“So just to clarify,” Neal said. “You want to seduce a murderous gangster, let him take you back to his impenetrable fortress, and then… what exactly?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “You tell me.”

Neal opened his mouth to argue and then closed it again.

“Alright, I’m gonna cut in here,” Cooper said. “How old is she?”

“She’s 18,” Neal said, still deep in thought.

“So, barely legal,” Cooper said.

And then I said something true, which I have been casually not talking about: “I’m 19!”

Neal twisted in his seat. “Since when?”

And then I remembered that I haven’t been talking about how I turned 19 ten days ago because it’s too SAD. Like damn dude, birthday away from my mom? And all my friends? And my entire life? Nope. Incomprehensible. My entire coping mechanism has basically been Pretend It Isn’t Happening, which was why I didn’t even write about it. Plus, it was on a Sunday, which is not a blogging day, so there.

But I didn’t say that to them. To them I just said, “the fifteenth.”

Neal gave me a stern look but evidently decided not to start that conversation just yet. Then he said, “see, she’s 19.”

“Even so,” he said. “I’m not comfortable sending in a civilian —”

Julian laughed aloud, but it was Neal who corrected him: “Alright Captain America, I’m gonna stop you there. Shiloh’s faced down scarier shit than a dad bod in a fancy suit. It’s not a question of whether or not she can handle it.”

My heart exploded. Absolute cardiac arrest. Literally just about revisited Madelyn’s Creepy Creek in the Cave.

“Fine, she’s not a civilian,” Cooper said while I was still trying to hid the full swoon I was experiencing in the back seat. “And fine, she can handle good old Georgie. But … I mean —” he gesticulated helplessly. “Look, I know the girls Georgie Belsavic surrounds himself with. And I mean this as a compliment, but she doesn’t quite fit the profile.”

UM.

All three of them twisted in their seats to look at me. Just three faces like this:

🤨🤭😬

“Okay, don’t take this the wrong way,” Julian began, and before he even said anything, I had already taken it entirely the wrong way, which he must have sensed, because he stumbled over his next words. “It’s just that —”

“Shiloh, I love you, to me you shit glitter,” Neal interrupted, to rescue him. “But you’re a sulky, baby-faced, little gremlin and I love that about you. But if I had to name your vibe, I’d call it leave me the fuck alone crossed with please help me, I’m lost, and Georgie Belsavic looks for more of a …loves private jets and won’t snitch when I start murdering 25 year old women vibe.”

“I was bait for the sludge!” I reminded him and he pricked an eyebrow at me.

“Yes, you presented him evidence of your functioning liver magnificently.”

At which point I was ready to fling myself onto a bed and weep dramatically like a disney princess.

Neal went on. “If we really wanted to, I’m sure we could put together a Georgie Belsavic-approved disguise for you but —”

“There’s no way we’re getting into the clubs they’re going to, anyways,” Cooper interrupted, obviously hoping to end the conversation.

Neal scoffed. “That’s not the issue.”

Cooper scoffed right back. “You really think we’d get into” enter-exclusive-club-with-ties-to-the-mafia here, and Neal smirked at him.

Nothing like being told he couldn’t to get Neal in the trying spirit.

Julian was a little bit harder to convince. “What exactly are we hoping to accomplish?” he sighed. “Even if I was comfortable with dressing Shiloh up and aiming her at nearest 35-year-old gangster, which for the record, I’m not, we don’t even have a plan here.”

“I mean I’m not saying we send Shiloh on a search and destroy mission either,” Neal said, and grinned. “No offense Shiloh.” I took all the offense. Like SORRY I’m not sexy enough to pull a gross skeezy old man. “We have to gather info somehow. We can sit in the car planning all night, or we can go inside and start trying to figure this guy out. Maybe inspiration will strike.”

Julian seemed doubtful, until Neal said, “the game is infiltration,” and then finally Julian rolled his eyes and, smiling reluctantly, agreed to get dressed.

Ah, the back of the rabbit fashion show.

I’m going to just admit straight up that despite the fact that the boys had all decided I wasn’t going to actively try to seduce the gangsters (party poopers) I had gotten it into my head that I was gonna show their dumb asses.

I’ll give you all a moment to really wallow in the stupidity of that decision.

I didn’t quite have anything slutty enough, but I did still have those stockings and garters from Cara and combine those with one of Julian’s t-shirts, the leather jacket, obviously, and the ol’ straightened upside down in a motel-bathroom hair look, and I thought I had a chance in hell. Like, maybe if he had like a … secret alt-girl thing? Like idk I was going for like a … girl-in-a-band-who-thinks-she-makes-music-for-cool-20-somethings-but-who’s-fans-are-actually-edgy-14-year-olds-through-no-fault-of-her-own … look.

I’m going to be hearing Neal’s voice saying leave me the fuck alone crossed with please help me, I’m lost in my head until the day I finally, gratefully, die.

Anyways, they let us into the stupid, thumping, sort of cheesy nightclub, regardless of what I was wearing.

Cooper and Julian went to get us drinks. Neal and I found Georgie and his entourage sitting in a dark, raised alcove, and they were not subtle. There were maybe 20 of them, and they were dressed like caricatures of themselves. I could smell the cologne and hair gel from across the club.

“Alright listen,” Neal said the moment the others were out of earshot. “Are you planning on taking a crack at him?”

“You’re not allowed to ask me questions,” I said because I obviously couldn’t lie to him and he rolled his eyes.

Meanwhile this greasy arrogant asshole was sliding his hand up some girl’s skirt.

“If you want to seduce the slimy gangster, far be it from me to try and stop you,” he said. “But please keep me looped in on that plan, okay, because he’s not… I mean he’s not dangerous like our usual kind of creature is dangerous. He’s got a whole other kind of danger going on.”

Yes, thank you Neal, I am aware that Georgie Belsavik probably assaults women. I can tell because he just pinched the waitress’ butt. And also because we’re literally here because he keeps murdering them.

But I was in the dark, gross room, with the thumping club beats, sticky floors and girls in faux fur, and I was going to show them all what their sulky, baby-faced little gremlin was capable of.

I’m literally so stupid hahaha. Like are we really going to seduce an old man to prove ourself? That’s what we’re doing Shiloh? Madelyn would have knocked me out and dragged me home by the ankles at this point.

Okay, I don’t remember exactly how the next part went down exactly, so I’m just going to cut to the important part:

I’m sitting at the bar. I’ve arranged myself carefully so that he can see me. I’m wearing black lipstick. I have not warned Neal what I’m up to.

I make eye contact, and — I’m as surprised as you are — I manage the perfect slight smile, gentle eye-lash bat, sip drink, ✨laugh✨, eye-contact sequence and he got up and started coming towards me.

I was so stunned I had to turn away so he wouldn’t see my absolute squee moment, and then I sat there holding my breath waiting for him to approach me.

I felt him lean across me. I barely dared to glance sideways at him, through my eyelashes, absolutely certain he was going to say something. I was already imagining the gloating I was going to do. The Hawthornes were going to eat their damn words.

Georgie bumped me, and I turned and smiled, expecting him to introduce himself or buy me a drink or try to sweep me off my feet or something —

And instead he said, slightly annoyed, “Excuse me, jesus,” and went on to order a Long Island iced tea from the bar tender over my shoulder. Then he spent three minutes on his phone while he waited, and then went back to his table.

And I, pathetic creature, just sat there, mouth hanging open, totally humiliated.

Neal said, “Oh, damn, I thought you had him.” And listen, there was nothing in his tone to suggest that he was being patronizing. Like, in retrospect I’m fairly certain that he genuinely thought I had him. At the time though, it made me want to d i e.

I slid off my barstool and ran for the bathroom. It was crowded and gross inside. I shoved between the crowds of girls crowded around the mirrors and slammed the lock on the door. I kicked the toilet. Then I sat on it and cried.

Was I being the most extra bitch on earth? Yeah, okay? I was. Take a moment to fully appreciate the absurdity of this situation:

1. Georgie Belsavic has a face like an undercooked turkey, and also is a murderer

2. We were actually here to rescue an innocent, terrified little creature that Georgie Belsavic was using to hurt people, and I was crying in the bathroom because a gross dude didn’t buy me a drink in a bar

3. In recounting what actually happened, I’m not actually sure the Hawthornes thought I couldn’t do it, which was why I was really upset. Like actually they were pretty supportive of my idea considering my idea was to go seduce a murderous skeez

But there was no explaining that to crying-in-the-bathroom Shiloh. She was going down a whole wormhole:

I missed Madelyn so much. Madelyn would have said something about how failing to seduce gross old men was a compliment and I would have felt better. Instead I just sat there, feeling equal parts humiliated by being a terrible seductress and humiliated by my reaction to it. I opened my phone and started scrolling down, flirting with the idea of calling Tilly, who liked me against all reason. A thousand Georgie Belsavics couldn’t add up to one Tilly. Tilly, who probably hates me right now, but who fucking cares, at least she LIKED me, unlike those terrible mean boys who thought I was hideous and pathetic and young and useless — I was on a rampage, beyond all rationality, it wasn’t pretty — when I paused at Cara in my contacts.

She said I could call in emergencies. Was this an emergency?

Rationality said no, in a very quiet, ignorable voice.

I pushed call.

The phone rang one time before she picked up.

“Shiloh?”

“Hi,” I said wetly.

“What’s wrong, what happened?” she sounded terrified and I realized that she probably thought a Hawthorne had died.

“Everything’s okay, sorry,” I said. “I’m sorry I shouldn’t have called.” And because I’m the MOST dramatic bitch I hung up the phone.

You really have to hand it to Cara Thistle though. She called me back three times and sent me text message that said pick up pick up pick up over and over again until I finally did it.

“Hi, no one’s dead?”

“No,” I said, miserable.

“Okay, that’s good, we’re already doing better than I thought! What happened?”

So, haltingly, and with pauses to fully experience the true humiliation of the situation, I explained what I happened.

“Neal called you a what?” she gasped when I relayed the sulky, baby-faced, gremlin comment. “Oh my god. Someone someday is going to have to explain to me how his selective sensitivity works because I swear to god, he’s just the WORST — okay let me see you, let’s see what we’re working with.”

Which wasn’t ideal because I’d been crying and my eye makeup wasn’t exactly prepared for that kind of action. But I did call her for help, so I just switched obediently over to FaceTime.

“Oh you look great!” she said. “Look at you, little goth baby, you’re so scary! This isn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be, you’re just too intimidating for your own good.”

Which isn’t not what I was going for, though I could have gone without the cooing.

“Okay you said he came over and got a drink but didn’t say anything to you?”

I nodded, and just thinking of it made my face crumple up again.

“No, that’s okay! That’s good!” she said. “You think Georgie Belsavic gets his own drinks if he doesn’t want to?”

I hadn’t thought of it like that.

“Of course he doesn’t, you’re in,” she said. “Did he smile at you? Lean against the bar? Look at you at all?”

I couldn’t remember. He might have, actually. I was so concerned with not looking at him and pretending to be indifferent that I didn’t notice.

“It doesn’t matter,” Cara said. “You’re in the game. You either want to keep playing the slow game — get on the dance floor or something, make lots of eye-contact — or you just gotta bite the bullet and walk up to him. Be bold. Scare him, he’ll love it. Now, fix your makeup.”

I sniffed and started smudging the streaks away.

“Don’t listen to Neal,” she said. “If you want to be a terrifying sexpot that’s exactly what you’ll be.” She hesitated, then added, “but sweetie, it’s probably for the best that the Hawthornes aren’t lusting after the 18-year-old they kidnapped.”

I managed wet laughter. How dare that be absolutely true hahahahhaha.

“Now what are you gonna do next?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“That’s okay! Put on a fresh coat of lipstick, and go be scary in a hot way, okay?”

I wiped my nose and nodded and she laughed. “Knock-em dead,” she said. “But not literally, because Georgie owes me money.”

I laughed again.

“I’m glad you called, but I have to go, I’m making a client wait. Are you gonna be okay?”

I nodded.

“Call me any time, alright? Tell the boys I love them. Okay, bye baby.”

She’s like my hot, outlaw, big sister, and I love her.

And maybe it was the Cara confidence that made me do it, but I kicked open the bathroom door (germs) and stormed back to the bar where the Hawthornes were waiting.

Neal looked very concerned. “Shi? Everything okay?” He had to lean in close for me to hear him, so I took his drink from him and downed the whole thing.

“Hey!”

But before I could hear anything else they said, I stomped across the room, and climbed the two steps onto Georgie’s entourage’s little enclave. When his two huge body guards intervened I just looked at Georgie, and he, smirking a little, waved them aside. I walked right up to him, lit a hand on his shoulder like Cara would have, and leaned right down into his ear. I felt his hand float over the back of my thigh. EW.

I whispered, right into his hair product, “I know how you killed Bethany Valentina.”

His hand tightened on the back of my leg, but fuck him, what was he gonna do? I’d faced down scarier dudes than Georgie Belsavic totally alone, and I tonight my backup had literal superpower hahahaha.

I tightened my grip on his shoulder and added, louder, into his ear: “That creature is going to kill you unless you let us help you.”

He pushed away enough to search my face.

“You can’t have her.”

“No,” I agreed. “I just want to help you.”

His eyes narrowed. “Why?”

I smiled toothily. “Dead men don’t pay debts,” I said “And you owe a friend of mine money.”

And then he agreed to meet us in the morning.

Neal, Julian and Cooper received this news with bewildered glee as I led the way out of the club, shivering with adrenaline.

“What did you say to him?” Neal asked.

So as we walked back towards the car, I retold the encounter, and yes, they were all suitably impressed.

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