Ebony opened the door, her keys banging softly against the chipped wood frame. She gingerly rubbed the scratched paintwork, hoping to smooth out the imperfections. Instead, all she managed was a splinter.

"You need a paint job," she told the store as she walked in, dumping her bag on the counter. She bit her thumb, removing the shard of wood with little effort and spitting it onto the ground. "And I need manners," she replied to herself with a satisfied laugh.

She didn't have much to do today, in the way of store business, that was. She had to stack some shelves, move some books out from the back, and post a couple of rare tomes overseas. Apart from that, this would be a quiet day.

Ebony abruptly stopped short, halfway through flipping the closed-sign to open. This should be a quiet day, she corrected herself. You should never tell the universe what to do. Giving it a categorical order only ever made it tetchy.

Ebony kicked several dusty books out of her path as she made her way over to the window. She intended to yank open her ancient blinds and throw some much-needed morning light over this shemozzle. As the old wooden slats parted with a creak, perfect stripes of light moved across her face and into the room behind. Like seedpods on the wind, the sunlight lit up the dust motes drifting through the air and played against the dark mahogany of her loose hair.

Ebony took a moment to stare through the windows, fixing her gaze on the blue sky above. It should be a beautiful, warm summer's day.

Should be, she repeated to herself as she turned from the view.

Her long hair trickled over her shoulder as she turned. Though trickle was not a word you associated with dead, lifeless hair, you had to widen your vocabulary when it came to Ebony. Not only did her curled strands store up the light like a handful of diamonds glinting in the sun, but the hair itself had a mind of its own. It sometimes swayed from side-to-side, like wind over long grass. It sometimes danced between her shoulders, like a bird hopping from branch to branch. Sometimes it sat there like a storm – eddying, brewing, each tassel a wild, concentrated wave.

No, Ebony's hair was not every day, normal, humdrum, or ordinary. Nothing about Ebony was ordinary – not her appearance, not her life, not her store, not her job.

Ebony Bell was—

The bell above the front door tinkled as someone came in. Ebony cocked her head to one side, long neck straining until she got a full view of the door and the two men who cautiously walked in.

One was tallish, the other stout. Both were dressed in cheap, but well-made gray suits. Both had the same starched white shirts, their collars so stiff and neat, they could have been carved out of stone. The tall man wore a simple black tie, which sat straight all the way down his front. The short man didn't wear a tie, and his top button had popped all the way open.


How Ebony could deduce who these men were based simply on the appearance of their clothes was not important. She had many gifts, many useful, unusual gifts. She also knew the stout man, which helped.

"Ben," she curled her lips into a smile, flicking her hair over her shoulders as she moved out into the center of the store, "I thought I told you never to come here without food?"

Ben, a middle-aged man with a balding patch so circular it looked like a mushroom ring, grinned. His grins were half-cheeky, half-lopsided, and mostly chin. He shoved a hand into a pocket and produced a brown paper bag.

"Ohh," Ebony pursed her lips and cocked an eyebrow, "I have you trained."

Ben nodded in a humble but fake way and threw her the packet. Ebony could see the grease glistening off it as it spiraled through the air. When it came to Detective Benjamin Tate and food, salt, sugar, and grease were guaranteed.

She caught the packet without shifting her eyes. One long, elegant hand snatched it out of the air with a snap.

Ebony let her gaze draw to the man with Ben – the tall, silent, brooding man who looked like he belonged in a classical painting of a knight. It wasn't just the way he stood with his chest puffed out, his feet planted, and his hands rounded into soft fists. It was the way his jaw was set with an edge of righteous defiance. The way his short, brown hair lengthened the shadows on his face. The way his dark eyes glinted at the world like pinpricks of fire on a moonless night.

If Ebony smiled, she couldn't help it. Ben's friend looked like a barrel of fun. With one glance, it was clear he found her irritating.

This made her smile all the harder.

Ebony slid her gaze off the man and onto the greasy packet in her hand. She peered inside to see some kind of fried biscuit. Why someone would intentionally deep-fry something that was already fat and sugar molded into a lump, mystified her.

"So, Ben, tell me, what brings you here so early in the morning?"

"Early?" Ben produced another packet with the same type of fried biscuit inside and proceeded to squeeze it into his mouth between breaths. "It's ten. I've already been up for four hours." Crumbs tumbled off his lips and between his fingers, forming a pile at his feet.

She shrugged expressively, rolling her make-up-clad eyes. "We appear to have a different concept of time." Which was true. For Ben, time trundled on like a clock strapped to a packhorse. For Ebony, time spiraled. "Now, can I actually help you? Or are you here to drop crumbs all over my precious stock?"

Ben ignored her comment, instead leaning down to pick up the book near his feet, bits of biscuit crumbling in his fingers. "Precious? You sure? This looks like a dog-eared Nancy Drew novel."

This drew a sharp snort of a laugh from Ben's friend.

Ebony shifted her gaze over to him, like a cat looking up, mid slumber, to see a mouse frolic across its path.

Who was this man?

"So, who are you exactly?" Ebony didn't beat about the bush, didn't soften her tone. She took several confident steps towards the man, and curled up one ruby-red lip. "I'm not used to men giggling from the stalls."

The man bristled, his head shifting back slowly and his chest punching out even more.

Before she could exact her reply, Ben ruined the mood with a jovial laugh. "Leave him alone," he pleaded, "The guy's new."

"Then why is he in an old suit?" Her smile was now nothing but teeth pressed into lip. She knew she was being cheeky, but she loved it.

The man's look of affront peaked and plateaued with a gaze that could cut steel. Making a show of looking around the room, he found his voice box. "Strange, I would have thought it was the newest thing in this store and certainly the cleanest."

Ben chortled from behind her, crumbs spraying out like waterfalls all over his jacket and tie.

She had to suppress the gleeful smile threatening to turn her into a Cheshire cat. "Ohhh," she purred, lips forming a long and drawn out W, "Aren't you sharp? With a wit like that you should come with a warning."

The man didn't falter for a second. "I'll send around a police dispatch now, or—" he paused, trying to look as if he was concentrating, "I could just leave and do some real police work. Why are we here again, Ben?" The man now turned from Ebony, facing Ben with a disapproving look. "Unless we can fine this woman for violating OH&S laws," he reached out and tested the stability of a teetering tower of boxes and old magazines, "I think we should start on the murder from last night."

Ben finished his final swallow, coughing heartily as some of the crumbs stuck in his throat. "Yeah, yeah, rookie. We'll get to the case. Remember, the way of the mentor isn't always clear to the little new guy." He patted his hand at about hip height, indicating the man who stood a full five inches taller than him was a midget in Ben's eyes. "You've got to relax. This is your first day, and I'm taking the time to show you the ropes, because around here ropes are real important."

"And food," Ebony added, resting her chin on her hand, her fingers drumming against her cheek. She was getting bored with this conversation. She had a lot to do. But watching Ben's new friend had a certain appeal. He was like some righteous Greek god who'd been plucked from Mount Olympus only to be slapped down amongst all these mundane little people who didn't understand the justice and order of things.

The man was ignoring her now, concentrating instead on dragging Ben out of here. "Look," he said with a sharp sigh, "I don't see any ropes around here. And frankly, this is a used bookstore, Ben. Don't you think a dark alley, or a drug den, or an abandoned warehouse, or practically anywhere but here would be more relevant to police work?"

Ben trotted over to a half-full waste-paper basket and threw away his crumpled bag. Wiping his fingers on his pants, he shrugged. "Drug den? You been reading cop novels from the 1920s, or something?"

The man's expression grew more exasperated. "You know what I mean – meth lab, hydroponics unit, whatever. Point is, we're wasting our time. That murder isn't going to get solved by standing around—"

Ben raised a hand, and Ebony was pleased to note there was an edge of finality to the movement. For the most part, Detective Ben Tate was a softy. He'd never say anything without a grin, was sure never to drop by before ten, and hardly grumbled when Ebony stole his coffee. But when he wanted to, he could muster the authority of a field general. "Alright, Detective Wall, that's enough. I brought you here to meet Ebony Bell. Ebony, this is Nate Wall."

Ebony smiled, perfect white-teeth glinting between the ruby-red of her favorite lipstick. "Detectives Nate and Tate, hmm, now doesn't that roll off the tongue?"

Ben made a loud sound like a buzzer. "Wrong answer, Eb. That's where you curtsy and say 'nice to meet you, detective.' And as for you," Ben turned on Nate, "This is where you—"

"It's such a damn pleasure to meet you." Nate crossed the room quickly and, much to Ebony's surprise, lifted up her hand and shook it vigorously. He had a grip like a jeweler's vice, and shook Ebony's hand like a businessman after a sales pitch. "Gee," his voice was high and fake, "My name's Detective Nathan Andrew Wall, such a pleasure."

Ebony blinked, surprised at his sudden change of personality. Her first impression of this man had been one of a sarcastic, but mostly boring, all-around good-guy. Tall, handsome, officious, and would cite every single rule in the book, given the chance.

Now she had to change her estimation of Detective Nate Wall. Why? The man was playing her.

"So, Eb," Nate stood too close to Ebony, looming height and solid build a touch inside her personal space, "Do you mind if I call you Eb?"

Just as she'd teased and prodded him before, the good detective was now getting his own back. "No, pet," she stressed the term of endearment, "You call me whatever you need to."

"Ah, how accommodating." Nate nodded, face full of false cheer. Only the curl at the corners of his lips looked real. "So, Eb, I'm the new detective in town, and my partner here was just showing me the ropes, see."

Ebony nodded, eyes narrowing. Detective Nate could play this game all he wanted, but the boy had no idea what was coming.

"Anyhow, my partner here really seems to think it's important that I meet you. I don't know why," Nate's tone was beginning to shift. "I mean, you run a used bookstore, after all. Hey, maybe you have a great section on crime, or something? Or some collector's edition of Guns and Ammo? Or—" the detective's tone was as dry and sharp as a newly forged blade, "Maybe this is a waste of time."

"Hmm." Ebony made a soft, careful noise. "You are in luck – I do have a very good collection of books relating to crime. And I might even have a couple of copies of Guns and Ammo hanging around."

Nate's face was stony, challenging.

"Also," her mouth formed the slowest of smiles, "I'm a witch."

Dead silence met that fact. Finally Nate's expression cracked, and he let out a bullet blast of a laugh. "A witch? Blimey, you're wasting my time, and you're mad."

If Nate Wall had half a mind to look at his partner, he would have seen the ashen look of fear cross Ben's face. "Ah, Nate," Ben began, "You might not want to—"

"You know what, lady, I have work to do. There was a horrible, brutal murder last night. As fun as this has been, I have a real job." Nate turned around and started picking his way towards the front door. "Judging by the look of this store," he mumbled under his breath, "You would have no idea what work is anyway. The damn thing should be torn down."

Ebony crossed her arms, red fingernails drumming around the sleeves of her white summer-dress.

"Ebony," Ben's voice had a note of pleading, "Don't do anything too—"

A pile of old books and magazines suddenly tumbled off the counter and right into the path of the retreating Detective Nate. The detective had quick reflexes and dodged to the side with little effort.

"This place is a death trap," Nate noted through a grunt.

Another pile of books tumbled over, and another. None of them were close enough, or large enough, to do any damage to the rude detective. Still, the man's face started to tighten with fear. "What?" he snapped. "This store is coming down around your ears!"

"This store," Ebony said, her voice a cold whisper, "Doesn't like to be insulted. Me," she brought an expressive hand up to her chest, "I don't care what you say about me, pet, but you really shouldn't insult the store."

Nate's eyes widened as another pile of books tipped over by his side. Old novels and yellowed magazines were now strewn everywhere, as if Ebony had gone up the spiral staircase that led to the second level and tipped box after box over the railing and onto the floor below.

"You're going to have to say sorry." She lifted her face to meet the detective's gaze.

His eyes were wide, his brow more creased than a shoreline after a storm. Yet, somehow, he didn't appear shaken. Boxes may have been erupting books like geysers spewing water at a hot spring, but somehow the man still had a determined tilt to his jaw.

"You aren't serious—" he began.

Books now tipped from the bookcases, as if shoved from behind. The open-sign somehow fell off its hook, striking the floor with a thud and coming to rest against Detective Nate's shiny shoes.

Nate looked down.

"Quickly," Ebony hissed, "Before he starts tipping the bookcases over."

There was an ominous thud from upstairs.

Nate looked up, to each side, then finally back at Ebony. Chin close to his chest, he tilted his head down and looked up at her. "Sorry," he began.

A tenuous silence filtered through the store.

"But this is ridiculous," Nate finished.

Ebony sucked in a sudden breath. "Why you little—"

One of the large, wooden bookcases behind the counter began to tilt forward. Left alone, the thing would crash right over the counter and splinter on top of a surprised Detective Nate.

"Cowboy!" she spat as she stalked up to him. She grabbed his arm and yanked him towards her, out of the way of the teetering bookcase and out of the line of danger. "If I had a dollar for every time an arrogant idiot like you got yourself into trouble around magic," she paused as she pushed him to the side as one of the light-fittings fell from the lamp above, "I'd buy you all life insurance and finally cash out. Really, is it so hard to believe in magic?"

With the now thoroughly surprised detective in hand, Ebony whipped an arm around her head in a small circle. At her feet a soft blue glow appeared, spiraling outward until it encompassed both her and Nathan Wall with ease.

Finally, the detective looked surprised. No, that wasn't quite right. He looked bone-shaken, with pallid skin and a sharp, breathless expression on his face.

"Now," Ebony said, her voice soft, "For some reason this store has taken a spectacular disliking to you. He's never usually quite this rude. But unfortunately for you, you are the one who started it." She was standing close enough to the detective that she could feel the heat of his breath. "Like it or not, you're going to have to finish it as well. Now, all you have to do is say one little word." Her sharp gray-blue eyes twinkled at him. "Just one little word."

Detective Nate stood and stared at her, bottom lip jutting forward. "What on Earth is going—"

Ebony mouthed, "Sorry," expressively.

Finally, the dolt did what he was told. With a quick cough and a startled but sheepish look on his face, he announced "Sorry," in a loud voice.

"Ah," Ebony clapped her hands together, "Finally."

The books stopped falling, the magazines stopped fluttering, the bookcases no longer tipped themselves all over the ground, and somehow the open sign had reverted to its usual place above the door.

Ebony patted her hair. "Now, that's certainly a strange way to start the morning." She clicked her fingers and the blue circle of protection disappeared from her feet. She put her hands on her hips and surveyed the mess. "Oh dear."

Ben crawled out from underneath the banana-lounge, his round face drooped like a flower. "Damn it, Ebony, you trying to kill us?"

"It wasn't me." She waved him off with a flick of her hand. "Apparently Harry is in a mood this morning." She knelt down and started piling books on top of each other, trying to clear a path from the door to the stairs.

"What's going on, who's Harry?" came the gruff voice of Detective Nate behind her. "And what just happened?"

Ebony rolled her eyes, sighed, and stood up. Ebony Bell was tall, slender, had long red hair, and sparkling gray-blue eyes. She was hardly a super model though. She wore her face and body like a trophy wife wears a jacket – one for every occasion. Not to say that she literally pulled off her face and slotted a new one in place. It was her expressions, her stance, her body language. At times Ebony would smile, her hair glinting in the sun, her eyes sparkling and warm – and she would look like the most beautiful creature ever born. At other times she would stalk to and fro, her lips pulled, eyes narrowed, fists rolled up – and look like a deadly menace, akin to the most terrifying of hardened criminals. Yet at other times she would be engaged in the most mundane of tasks, and look for all-the-world like a simple, ordinary woman.

It was a rule with Ebony – whatever she was doing, she became.


Because Ebony Bell was a Summoner Witch. And the first hallowed rule of summoning is becoming.

"Listen, Detective Nathan Wall. I'm sure you are a little surprised by all this, so let me start at the beginning. My name is Ebony Elizabeth Bell. I am a witch. I own a magical second-hand bookstore. Harry is the name of the spirit who inhabits the store." She cast around her feet, as if looking for more thoughts. "Now let me see, is that it?"

Nate looked at her askance. "A magical bookstore called Harry... a witch," he repeated, his voice uneven.

Ben trundled up to him. "I told you she was an important one to meet. But no, you didn't believe me." He let out a stuttering laugh. "That's the thing with rookies, always think they know best."

Ebony put a finger on her lips and wondered how much she should tell this man. He was a firecracker, to be sure – full of determination, idiocy, and a freakish sense of right and wrong. Just the recipe for having something explode in your face.

She had what could only be called a special relationship with the police force of this city. As resident Summoner Witch, she had to. The city of Vale sat right on top of a gate between worlds – a portal. As such, though it already had its fair share of ordinary crime, it also had extraordinary crime. That's where Ebony came in.

Vale had ancient roots, and somewhere in its dark past a pact was forged between the witches and whatever ragtag bunch that had then been equivalent to the police. When they had to, they worked together to keep its citizens safe. No one else had a clue about this pact, or even the existence of witches, for that matter. If Ebony walked up to an ordinary Valian and asked if they knew there was a witch who did consultancy work for the police department, they'd laugh at her and text a friend about the tool fool they'd seen in the street.

Nevertheless, there was a pact, and it had held right up to this day. Somehow – no matter what happened to the governments, what political parties took hold, what laws changed, what mayor was elected – the pact held. Even during the two World Wars, the witches of Vale had still kept up their bargain. Come rain, hail, shine, or demon, the witches honored this sacred agreement.

For the most part, the police honored theirs too. No witch was ever dragged off by secret government spies for questioning and prodding in a dark room. And no policeman ever had a hex, a love potion, or a curse thrown through their front window. The police knew what they had to do, and so did the witches. Keep to the bargain and somehow this unlikely alliance would last. As the old witches had warned, break the bargain and the witches would simply disappear.

And guns and riot shields weren't entirely effective against a horde of demons.

So it was that Ebony had come to know Ben. Ebony had moved to this city when she was a sparkling eyed ten-year-old, and she had fallen in love with it. She'd learned the code from her mother, a witch; and had learned to shoot from her father, a police officer. She'd gone off to study, travel the world and generally bum around in her early twenties, before coming back to the only city she knew. When Harry's second-hand bookstore had come up for sale, she'd managed to muster the money for the deposit. And when the police department had put out the call for a new witch liaison, she'd been delighted when they'd accepted her application.

That was her story. The enigma of Ebony Bell wasn't too mysterious after all. Just a witch in a big city, trying to get by.

"Ebony is a consultant for us." Ben scratched behind his ear. "We call her in when... stuff gets weird."

Nate swallowed. "Of course you do."

"You remember when you were transferred to us?" Ben smiled. "You remember when the detective Chief Inspector sat you down and said this job's going to be unlike anything you've ever done?"

"I thought he was just exaggerating." Nate neatened his tie until it sat flat once more.

"Yeah well, he meant it. Now, I really should have handled this better. Instead of briefing you at the office about the uh... peculiarities of working for the Vale Police Department, I thought I'd bring you straight in to meet Eb and get it all over and done with."

"You weren't to know Harry would react like this." Ebony kept picking up books and stacking them into piles.

"Yeah well, whatever. Point is, rookie, Eb here is a witch."

Nate nodded slowly, offering something halfway between a smile and a grimace. "We've covered this."

"Yep, she's a witch, and she works for us. Vale here is sitting on top of a... now let me get this right... a portal between worlds that somehow makes the energy here more charged... Kind of like a storm, I guess," Ben muddled through his words. His hands flew about him as he tried to make sense of his confused thoughts.

"Yes, how about I explain," Ebony cut in. "Vale is sitting on top of a Portal, that much is true. In fact, there are many such Portals all around the world. You just wouldn't know it. Vale's Portal, however, is unusually strong," she said quickly, knowing such detail would be under-appreciated by the new-guy detective. He had no clue about magic, so the prospect Vale was sitting on one of the biggest inter-dimensional rifts this side of the Milky Way wasn't one he'd appreciate.

She took a deep breath and decided to continue trying to explain the incredibly complex to the obviously stupid. "While the Vale Portal itself is usually closed, things sometimes leak through. This usually isn't the problem though. What is the problem is that being in such proximity to an inter-dimensional tunnel means the city of Vale is highly charged with magical fields. Without going too far into the theory of Field Work, what happens is that being so charged it becomes much easier for people to unintentionally produce magic." She looked up to see Nate's face, a picture of pained confusion. "You aren't getting this, are you?"

"A magical bookstore just tried to kill me because I called it messy," Nate said truthfully. "I have to say, I'm having difficulty paying attention."

"Hmm okay, good point. Let me put it this way – when someone straps themselves to a metal pole on a bright summer's day, what is their chance of being struck by lightning?"

Nate sighed, chest moving deeply. It was as if he was finally surrendering to the sheer ridiculousness of the situation. "Low to none."

"Right, how about if they strap themselves to a metal pole during a violent thunder storm? Their chances increase measurably, right?" She waited for the detective to nod. "Well this is Vale. Vale is a violent electrical storm of magic. Now, anyone who recites an incantation they find off the Internet, or buys a book on devil craft, or accidentally picks up a cursed rocking chair in an antique store – they are like that idiot strapping himself to a metal pole. In the ordinary, everyday world, magic is incredibly hard. Here, magic is easy to attract, but still hits you like a lightning strike."

"The way I look at it," Ben shifted a pile of magazines off the couch and sat down, "Is like this. Magic is like drugs. People use it to forget themselves, get high, get transcendental, whatever. But the stuff is powerful and addictive. It's cheap too, yet comes at a hell of a price. As Eb said, any goon with an Internet connection can look up the dark arts, just like any idiot can go downtown and get wasted on drugs. The kids don't know what they're dealing with, but like the high. And we clean up after them."

"Junkies," Nate raised an eyebrow, "Vale is a city of magical junkies... right?"

"No, no, you've got the wrong picture. There really isn't too much magical crime around." She made her way over to the counter and started shuffling around behind it. "Honestly, there isn't. Vale is usually quite ordinary. However—"

"On special occasions, we have to call in to see Eb. We bring her a biscuit, she steals our coffee, then she goes and finds our bad guy."

She found the book she was looking for. "Ah ha, here you go, Detective Nate, here's some light reading for you."

Nate took the book and looked at the cover. "A Brief History of Magical Crime in Vale? Ahh... who wrote this... and who published it—"

"Oh, no one wrote it, it wrote itself." Ebony pulled out another book and threw it at Nate. "Here's another one you might like."

"Witches, a Comprehensive Study of their use in Law Enforcement in Vale," Nate read aloud.

"There are other books I could find you." Ebony began to pick her way towards the back of the store. She had to admit she was feeling a little ashamed, but only a trifle. She'd had such fun playing with this new detective, she'd let Harry get out of hand. The spirit of this old store was cantankerous, but never as dangerous as he'd been today. To put it simply, she could have handled things better, and now she was eager to smooth things over.

Well, not smooth things over completely. There was something delicious in the way Detective Nate reacted to being teased. The man had this certain vibe about him that made Ebony want to walk up to him, mess up his hair, and pinch him on the cheek.

"Hey," Ben walked up to Ebony and caught her arm, "You can look for books later. Right now, we need you on a case."

"Oh," Ebony said quickly, "Oh dear. It's that murder from last night, isn't it?"


"I don't like murders," Ebony said softly.

"No one does, kid." Ben nodded at Nate. "Now, you've kind of had a big morning. And I'm sorry for how things have played out. You can go back to the office, and I'll get one of the boys to give you a proper debrief."

Nate shifted from foot-to-foot, staring warily out at the store, then down at the two books in his hands. "It has been an unusual morning," he agreed carefully.

"Ha, yeah." Ben clapped a hand on his shoulder and shook it lightly. "I told you it was important to learn the ropes in this town."

"I did think it was strange when I was forced to sign a specially drafted secrets act," Nate noted, his voice becoming more detached.

"About that." Ben grinned, his chin dimpling like a sand dune in the wind. "That secrets act is going to be, ah... more binding than you think."

Nate's brow knotted. "Sorry?"

"It's a magical document," Ebony interjected. "One of the things you'll learn in those books I've given you is about the sacred pact between the witches and the police department. Part of that pact is vowing that you'll never pass on the secret of the witches. And in order to ensure that you comply, you sign a special kind of document."

Nate's brow tightened. "What kind of document? What do you mean?"

"Well, while breaching an ordinary secrets act might land you in jail, trying to tell anyone about the witches will..."

"It's not pleasant, son." Ben patted Nate's shoulder again. "Your throat will seize up, you'll lose your voice for a day, you won't be able to write or communicate in any way... Oh, and you'll grow a really hideous wart on the end of your nose."

Nate grimaced. "Right."

"Now, we've got to get to that crime scene, Eb, while it's still, ah, fresh."

Ebony shuddered. If anyone had been paying close attention to her, they would have seen her stature shrink, her expression become weaker, and her stance become less confident. While on familiar ground, she could be as cheeky and sassy as her red lipstick and wild hair would permit – when things became unfamiliar, uncertain, even unsafe, then her confidence would ebb. As the confidence ebbed, the knowing glimmer would fade from her eyes to be replaced with... well, something more human.

"Rookie, I'll drop you off at the office on the way."

Detective Nathan Wall took a final look around the room, at the books in his hands, up at Ben's open face, and over to Ebony. "I signed up for this job," he said, his voice stiff but determined. "And this is my first day. I'll go with you."

Ben smiled appreciatively. "I knew you were made of strong stuff! Alright, let's stop burning daylight – the citizens of Vale are counting on us."

As the three of them walked out of the store, Ebony surveyed the strange Detective Nate: firecracker, live wire, pain in the butt, or knight in shining armor?

This one was going to be interesting.

The end of Chapter One. The rest of this book is available from most ebook retailers.