"Mace, what the hell is going on around here?”
George stepped back to allow his officers to cart out the four men who started the latest fight in Polaris. A few others were taken in as well, but they agreed to go quietly with just one officer and Mason’s business partner, Eric Gunnerson. These four were still resisting, still highly aggressive. Thankfully, the island police were all well trained.
From where he stood, guarding the door, Mason merely grunted in response. That was typical for the man. George learned to decipher those grunts over the years. He nodded, sighing.
“I know you’re as confused as the rest of us, Mace. None of this makes sense. You hiring on as bouncer here reduced fights to maybe one or two a year. Now they’re ramping up again. This is what? The second one this week?”
This grunt was in confirmation. One of the waitresses—Tami—brought Mason an ice pack for his split lip. He grunted a thank you and put it on the swelling until she disappeared back into the crowd. Once she was out of sight, Mason tossed it onto the bar, earning a head shake from Kayla, the bartender on duty.
“A bit of care won’t kill you, Mace. No matter how much you hate accepting it. You’ve lived on Stargazer long enough to know it doesn’t mean we think you’re weak.”
Mason grunted, then sighed as Kayla moved away to take an order. “Hate when she does that mind-reading shit.”
He turned back to George, who wisely hid his smirk. Instead, he just lifted a brow, inviting Mason’s thoughts on the fighting issue.
“Sixth since Memorial Day,” Mason muttered after another grunt and sigh. His dark gray eyes scanned the dim interior. “And it’s only the end of June. That lot was just as aggressive as the last.”
George nodded. “I’ve already called Andi to take blood samples for the lab. But given the look and behavior of these four, I’m guessing they’re on the same drug the last three groups were on.”
That earned him a grunt of agreement. “It’s like drugs we’ve seen in the past, yet not. Can’t make heads or tails of it.”
Mason turned when the door opened. He checked the IDs for the three women, scanning their faces before letting them through. George chuckled as he watched the women’s disappointment when Mason showed no signs of interest in them.
“You know those women were flirting with you.”
Another grunt. This time skeptical. With a hint of derision. Mason truly was fluent in the mono-syllabic language. He sighed again. A sure sign that he would use actual words.
“None looked high or drunk. And that’s been the trouble. Eric and I check everyone before they come in. Either they’re coming in through a different entrance, which shouldn’t be the case, or they’re using while they’re here.”
“You talk to Dev and Trey about that?”
This grunt was pure frustration. George shook his head, feeling exactly the same way about people who bury their heads in the sand, not wanting to deal with problems.
“Let them know they’re better off hearing it from you than hearing it from me. If I get involved, they’ll be officially cited for any more shit that goes down here.”
Mason grunted again as George left for the precinct. The summer night was warm, though the cool breeze off the Atlantic kept it from being sultry. He inhaled deeply, taking in the familiar scent of sea, summer flowers, and that indefinable hint he always associated with magic. The smell of home. Stargazer Island was a small slice of paradise. And as Chief of Police, it fell to George to keep her safe.
He sighed. His predecessors left records behind of how they dealt with demonic attacks, Otherkind run amok, hell, even the occasional sea monster. Those were the sorts of issues that tended to crop up on an island created by magic. He almost wished the problems plaguing his first year in office were that type.
Since he took over for Ed Simons, he had dealt with abusive parents looking to murder their grown children, break-ins and harassment by less than ethical reporters and investigators, a disinterested mayor, and now drugs. Not to mention the ongoing problem of disappearing municipal funds. Now there’s a magic trick. Hundreds of thousands of dollars vanish from the town coffers and no one knows anything. Islanders were sick of getting the run-around from the mayor’s office and Town Council regarding massive budget cuts and broken promises. They started turning to him with their concerns.
Not that he blamed the locals. They were doing their best to make things work. Fundraisers helped and were always well attended. But the fact of the matter was there should be more money in the municipal accounts than there was. Tourism had increased almost exponentially over the past couple of years. More businesses were opening. Yet revenue seemed to be down. Drastically. Now both police and fire departments were being told to make cuts.
Something was seriously wrong. George intended to figure out what. The trouble was, he was being stone-walled everywhere he turned. Someone did not want him investigating.
Walking into the precinct, he pushed that issue to the back burner. He already had a plan in the works. Hopefully, he could get the help he needed soon. Until then, there were more than enough other issues to deal with. He nodded to Sally Dodd, the overnight dispatch.
“Got four in the holding cells, Chief,” she told him. “The others are all in the conference room, waiting to give their statements. Rafe came over from the fire hall. He’s taking care of the injuries while Dr. Andi draws blood from the four instigators.”
“Eric still here?”
“He’s helping Liam and Sam keep Dr. Andi safe. Those four in the back are still acting violent.”
He moved between the desks of the bullpen and studied the five men waiting docilely in the conference room. While they all had been in the altercation at Polaris, none of them showed the blind aggression of the other four. He had a feeling these five were only defending themselves. Still, there was a process to get through. He passed Rafael Lee as the EMT left the conference room and saluted him.
“All patched up, Chief. I’ll catch ya later.”
“Thanks, Rafe. Have a good night.”
An hour later, Sally called him out of the conference room.
“Sorry, Chief. We just had a call from JJ. Apparently, a couple campers overheard the fishermen talking about the satyrs’ annual bacchanal and decided to ignore the rules about not going up to the top of the plateau without permission. They got themselves an eyeful. And then some.”
George sighed. “What happened?”
“JJ didn’t go into detail. Just asked if you could meet him and Amelia at the clinic. Dr. Andi just left to take those blood samples to the clinic not ten minutes ago.”
“Alright. Thanks, Sally.” He caught sight of Liam, Sam, and Eric leaving the holding cells. “Liam? Finish getting these guys’ statements, will you? I need to meet JJ at the clinic.”
When Liam nodded, George turned back to Sally. “Do me a favor and call Carl, Mitch, Conn, and all the fishermen before they head out to sea. Tell them I want to see them as soon as they deliver their daily catch. They should know better than to talk openly about this shit right on the public docks.”
Sally nodded, then grimaced. “Hate to do this to you, Chief, but you owe a dollar to the swear jar. Somehow, Connie always knows if I let something slide.”
“Yeah, I know, Sally. Thanks.”
George pulled a dollar out of his pocket and shoved it into the jar Connie kept beneath the dispatch desk. It was going to be a long night.
THE short walk to the clinic gave George a brief moment of peace, though his mind still scoured every word of the statements he took earlier, searching for any tiny clue that could give him more insight into what was happening at Polaris. Mason had been right. These drugs, on paper, looked like bath salts. But something about the reactions of those who took them just wasn’t quite right.
Before he came to any conclusion, George met JJ at the clinic. A gust of wind had both men watching the star-studded sky. A crimson dragon swooped low over the buildings and landed in the middle of the street. A larger, silver dragon dropped directly behind it. They both crouched low enough that he and JJ could pull the two unconscious men off the creatures’ backs. As soon as they were clear, shimmering, starlike lights appeared and disappeared around both dragons as they shrunk in size. Those red scales disappeared, morphing into olive skin and feminine curves, while the silver dragon shifted into a man.
Amelia Lee pulled a T-shirt dress out of a bag around her neck and donned it before holding the clinic door open for the men. As soon as he pulled on a pair of basketball shorts, her brother, Rafael, joined Dr. Andi in examining the patients.
George turned to Amelia. “Under the circumstances, I’ll overlook you and Rafe flying through town. Just don’t tell Donnie.”
Her dark eyes flashed with fire, though George’s last words made her lips twitch. “Not my fault those two frat boys decided to disobey JJ’s rules about staying off the top of the plateau. It’s late enough that no one except the satyrs and the mac Aire brothers would have seen me flying overhead otherwise.”
“What made you stop?” George asked her. “Or have you taken a sudden interest in hedonism, Mia?”
“Who’s got time?” Amelia snorted. “No, those two were completely wasted on the satyrs’ wine. So much so that they nearly fell off the waterfall. You know how much more potent that stuff is. I called Rafe and JJ.”
Just then, Rafael swore loud enough to be heard in the hallway. “The guy I carried needs his stomach pumped. George, we might need your help.”
“On it,” George headed into the room where the two men lay and washed his hands. He glanced over his shoulder. “What about the other guy?”
“Just passed out,” Dr. Andi told him as she worked on the man’s friend. “I don’t envy him his hangover in the morning.”
“He can consider it karmic justice for forcing the rest of us to pull an all-nighter,” Rafe muttered.
George wasn’t usually the sort to seek cosmic vengeance, but at that moment, he wholeheartedly agreed.
GEORGE walked into his house at six in the morning. Thanking Martha Walters, a retired schoolteacher and his neighbor, for babysitting all night, he showed her out. There was just enough time to get in a quick workout, shower, and change before Cody awoke. Then it would be breakfast and back to work after dropping the boy off at summer rec.
Cody Masters was the son of George’s childhood best friend, Luke. Stargazer was a small community where everyone knew everyone else. While he considered most of those he grew up with friends, George, Luke, and former Island resident Ryan Saunders were as tight as brothers. The three ran wild over the island throughout their childhood.
As adults, they had remained close. Ryan worked out of the nearest Coast Guard Station on the mainland. As captain of a rescue cutter part of his territory included patrolling the waters around Stargazer Island. He had been the one to find Luke’s body.
A fisherman, Luke knew the waters around the island better than just about anyone. But when a freak storm blew in, it had been too much for him to handle. His small boat capsized. Luke’s wife, Caroline, had called George, frantic when her husband did not return at his usual time. Before George could institute a search, Ryan had notified him of the devastating news.
Both men, and Ryan’s wife, Mandy, tried to help Caroline. She turned to drugs instead. Cody began acting out. When the other officers told him the boy had been caught stealing, George had a long talk with him. Not long after, his mother’s drug use led to her son being put into a dangerous situation. It gave George a chance to step in legally. He helped Caroline get admitted to an in-patient rehab facility. Until she got better, Cody moved in with him.
At first, George did not know how that would work but did not want the boy getting lost in the foster care system. He and Ryan spoke about the situation, but George knew Ryan’s wife had her hands full raising their three children. Plus, Cody was already struggling with school. Transferring him to a much larger district on the mainland would not help.
After nearly two months together, he and Cody had settled in well. Cody went to summer rec or an arts and crafts program at Alternate Universe—the island bookstore—while George was at work. Evenings and weekends, George made sure he was there to spend time with the boy. They hiked, camped, fished, boated, and played sports. Both had a lot of fun.
George could tell Cody was looking forward to seeing his mother again, though. While he could not visit her in person, Caroline reached a point in her treatment where she could speak with her son on the phone. That first call had been rough for them both. Now, though, the calls were much better. Caroline’s doctors said she would likely be released in just a couple more weeks.
Once he was out of the shower, George checked his email while he waited for his mirror to defog. Mayor Atterly would be unavailable for their weekly meeting later in the week. Again. He was sending his chief of staff, Evan Graves. Graves was one of the two candidates to fill the mayoral position in the next election and was endorsed by Atterly himself. But there was something about the man George did not trust. And his ridiculous expectations and condescending attitude made weekly meetings even less productive than they had been when Atterly attended.
George sighed and acknowledged the message. The next brightened his day. That help he had asked for would arrive on the noon ferry. He was looking forward to that. For more reasons than one.
Hearing Cody moving around his bedroom down the hall, George shut down his laptop and hurried to finish getting ready for the day.