"Mr. Murphy?"

The voice floated through the open door. The voice from the phone. Smooth, polite, educated. The voice of someone I’d feel much more comfortable about if I could fire a few hollow-points into him first. I sidled up to the door and took a quick peek through. It was just a hallway opening up into what looked like another warehouse space.

"Come in, Mr. Murphy. We are–ah–men of peace."

Stacks of wooden boxes lined one wall. A forklift rested idle in one corner. A man sat in a wheelchair in the center of the warehouse. Behind him stood another man. But I barely saw them. I was looking past them. The entire far wall of the warehouse was a metal rollup door. It was up, revealing the sea below. A small crane angled out of the opening, its arm extending over the water. And hanging from the crane’s claws, bound in chains, gagged, and staring at me furiously: Maura.

"A pretty thing, your woman."

It was the standing man. The voice from the phone. Manny Lolo. I knew him by sight. Always dressed in Armani. Taller than a basketball-playing giraffe. Smoother than a drugged colonoscopy, but ready to stick a knife in you sooner rather than later. But I wasn’t looking at him. I was looking at the man in the wheelchair. Louis Six-Fingers. He was slight and grey-haired and looked just like anyone’s grandfather. Except he was the most dangerous man in the city. He seemed to be dozing in his chair.

"Delectable." Lolo grinned. He had too many teeth.

"Put her down," I said. My mouth was drier than Monday morning.

"With a hundred pounds of chain on her? What a dreadful thought. She’d go straight to the bottom. It’s deep off the end of this dock. Though we’ve filled it with a few concrete blocks over the years."

That was the moment Louis Six-Fingers opened his eyes. He smiled, and it seemed like he had even more teeth in his withered mouth than Lolo. Still, he remained silent, slumped in his wheelchair.

"Now, Mr. Murphy," said Lolo. "You’ve been a bother to Mr. Louis. First the dog, then asking questions about the fire. Granted, we didn’t foresee the dog escaping, but the little brute was much cleverer than he looked. And then you had to go kill poor Joe. Joe, who wouldn’t squash a fly. But I think we’ll have to squash you, Mr. Murphy. I appreciate you arriving so promptly for the squashing. I dislike making house calls. Now, now. Put your gun away."

I threw it from me with a startled yell. The thing had suddenly started to move in my hand, squirming as if it were made of flesh. A gun with a beating heart. It skittered into a corner and lay still.

"The dog," I said. "I don’t get the dog."

"Come now. You aren’t that stupid. The dog knew the vault codes of Mr. Frederick T. Givens IV’s bank. Had heard and seen them as it pottered around its master’s feet, lifting a leg on the banknotes, no doubt. Hong Sho chose to stop paying protection. His stubbornness was timely for us, as we were in need of a fresh hand. There’s a lot you can find with a fresh hand, a candle, and an old spell or two. It was, ah, handy in finding the abandoned old sewer lines running beneath Finnegan’s shoe store."

"And I imagine that sewer line continues into the basement of the bank?" I said.

"You see?" Lolo smiled again. "You aren’t that stupid. However, as you seem to have figured out Mr. Louis’ plan, we’ll either have to kill you or hire you. And we can’t hire you, as Mr. Louis only hires ogres. Keeps it in the family, so to speak."

He stepped forward, a knife appearing in his hand. The thing looked as big as a meat cleaver.

"Hang on!" I backed up. "Can’t we talk about this some more? Like civilized people?"

"Ogres have been called a lot of names, but never civilized. So–no."

"Stand back," I said, slipping my hand into my coat.

"What? Another gun?"

"Nope. Something better." I whipped out the little crucifix I’d stolen from the church.

Lolo burst out laughing. "You think I’m a vampire, Murphy?"

I threw it at him. He caught it with his free hand. "Even vampires these days wouldn’t be bothered by this. Most of ’em are atheists. Nicely made, though. Hand-carved in the Ukraine, I’d say."

That’s when I sprayed him with the pepper spray I’d picked up from Maura’s purse. She always keeps a couple bottles in there. I sprayed him right in the eyes. He staggered back, hollering and pawing at his face. I kicked him in the privates, as ogres are reasonably similar to humans in that regard. He hollered some more. Stumbled around and tripped over the crane operator seat. He got a face full of the controls, which didn’t seem to improve his looks. But the impact must have also hit a pretty important button. The crane whirred. Cables grated on flywheels. Maura had just time enough to glare at me before she went tumbling down into the water. I gave Lolo another kick and sent him over the side after her. I looked down at the water. There was no sign of life. Ogres don’t swim well. It’s something to do with the stone content in their bones. The waves slapped against the pilings below. The wheelchair creaked behind me.

"I wasn’t looking for trouble, Mr. Six-Fingers," I said, turning. "I don’t need any more than I have. It’s a hard thing you’ve done, going after Maura. You’ve done enough, I think."

An invisible hand grabbed my throat. He stared at me, motionless, from across the room.

"Bygones can be bygones," I said. Sweat beaded on my forehead and trickled down.

"Grind your bones," he whispered, his voice thin. "Grind ’em for bread." His eyes did not blink. Something old and evil moved behind them. Squirmed and licked its lips. The grip on my throat tightened. My vision started to fade on the edge of my sight.

"I wouldn’t do that." I could barely manage the words.

"No?" His head cocked to one side. The grip on my throat loosened a fraction.

"You wouldn’t want Father Dimitri from Saint Peter’s down here, praying for your soul. I went to mass before I came here. Had a quick chat with him. Gave him five hundred bucks for local outreach. Five nice, crisp one-hundred-dollar bills. He’s quite a stubborn man. He’s got a whole load of old biddies at his church ready to knock on your door, just dripping with holy water and eager for your soul. Lots of old biddies. You’ll find ’em a tougher proposition than your politicians and union thugs."

He stared at me, silent, his eyes measuring my words. Then, abruptly, the grip on my throat constricted. I gagged. Choked. And the hand threw me across the room. I landed in a tumble of limbs, but sucking down air, grateful and released. The old thing in the wheelchair glared at me like he wanted to slice me up into prosciutto. I walked away, my scalp crawling. My neck ached, but that was okay. There were worse things.

The taxicab was still parked at the end of the dock. The cabbie sat on the hood, smoking a cigarette.

"Why’d you wait?" I said.

"I have good feeling about you," he said. "We go church together, we drive together, we American together. We like family."

"No more fifty-dollar handouts, pal."

"Ah, well." He shrugged. "It was good while it last. Where you want go?"

"Lover’s Point. Down by the water."

It was a quick drive, just a mile or so north from the docks. Maura loved the place. A grassy slope reaching down to the rocks and a beach tucked away below the point.

"Wait here," I said.

The cabbie nodded and lit another cigarette. I took off my coat, walked down to the beach, and sat on a rock. The waves curled in to the sand. I glanced around. There was no one in sight. A seal popped up its head from the water and regarded me with suspicion. It drifted closer until it surfed a wave into the beach. With a wriggle that flipped spray every which way like a dog, the seal turned into Maura. A naked Maura. A naked, angry Maura.

"You jerk!" she shouted.

"Here," I said. "You can wear my coat."

She slapped me, but her heart wasn’t in it. The anger was already going out of her like the water dripping off her skin.

"I could see you trying not to laugh," she growled. "Playing the fool with those wretched ogres."

"I could’ve been hurt," I pointed out mildly. "He had a large knife."

"Would’ve served you right," she grumbled.

I didn’t say anything more. There’s a time to talk and there’s a time to hold your tongue. Maura may be a selkie, with teeth on her strong enough to crack an abalone shell and all sorts of odd tricks up her sleeve, but she also works out every morning at the gym, and it’s her strong left hand I’m more in fear of. As for me, I’m just Irish, and that’s good enough for me, whether it be leprechauns or ogres or angry taxicab drivers I’m dealing with.

We walked back up to the parking lot. The cabbie’s eyes popped out of his head when he saw Maura. There was a lot to see, I’m sure.

"Where we go now?" he said. "Is this fifty bucks?"

"Can it, you swindler. Just get in and drive."

"I am good family man. What will the wife say if she hear I drive naked woman? Fifty bucks would keep mouth shut."

"She’d say a lot, I’m sure. So why don’t you drive us for free and I won’t tell her."

And that’s what he did. Grumbling curses in Ukrainian, of course. Maura dripped water onto my shoulder. We had some shoes to pick up. It was the start of a good day.

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