Sor’s shop was closed, and locked, and there wasn’t a bell. Zebra did knock, but that only made the glass door rattle in a way that he knew would not carry well through the rest of the building — though, even a wooden door would have trouble announcing visitors to the fifth floor, or the sub-basement Zebra knew was lurking beneath the building.
He stalked around the front, not sure what he was looking for. Katters, maybe, passed out on Sor’s lawn like a drunken idiot. It had been a while since she’d last gone on a bender, perhaps she was due.
If Katters had dragged him out here because she’d been drinking more than she could handle, again, he was going to kill her.
“What are you doing here?”
Zebra stopped poking at Sor’s shrubbery and turned to see Gabe hovering by the shop’s entrance, his silver hair tied back into a pony-tail, his polo shirt tucked into his slacks.
Gabe didn’t seem to like Zebra. Possibly because Alis had told him about how Zebra had tried, repeatedly, to kill him when he was temporarily undead.
In Zebra’s defence, he had no compelling evidence, at the time, that Gabe’s condition was temporary.
“I’m looking for Sor,” Zebra told him.
“In the bushes?”
“I was looking for Katters in the bushes. But I’m here to see Sor.”
“I need to ask her something.”
Gabe frowned. “Well, come in, then,” he said, after a moment’s thought. He stood back while Zebra passed through the door, then closed it after them.
“You’re lucky you didn’t set anything off out there,” Gabe told him. “Hold on, I’ll get her.”
Zebra was not concerned with Sor’s home security. There was a time he would have been, but ever since he and Sor had switched bodies, her magic had an unusual reaction to him, and whether or not it would have any effect at all was a flip of a coin. Even when it came up unfavourably, the extent of the damage was always just this side of truly harmful — more of an annoyance than anything else, which was also an annoyance to the sorceress herself.
“Zebra,” Sor said from halfway down the stairs. She didn’t look happy to see him, but he wasn’t happy to see her, either. “Why are you here?”
Gabe waited behind her, at the top of the stairs, leaning casually over the railing.
“Have you seen Katters, lately?” Zebra asked.
“Not lately, no.” She descended the rest of the stairs, her counterfeit ears cocking with confusion. “Why?”
“I haven’t, either.”
“She hasn’t been at home?”
“That was the first place I looked.”
Sor bit her lip. Her teeth were like a disconcerting cross between her true species and her costume — human in shape and configuration, mostly, but just a bit too sharp, too big. Though, Zebra was not in any position to judge her for this.
He judged her for the green, scale-like patterns decorating her skin, instead. That had to be offencive. Some manner of appropriation.
“She hasn’t said anything to you?” he asked.
Sor shook her head, but looked deep in thought, her ears twitching down. “She didn’t say anything to me, no.”
“Do you know where she went?”
“Know? No. But maybe,” she trailed off.
Her ears twitched again, tilting up at the ends, and she glared at him over her glasses. “How do I know she didn’t leave to get away from you?”
“How do I know she didn’t leave to get away from you?”
“Why would she be trying to get away from me? What did I do?”
Zebra shrugged. “I don’t know. But she didn’t tell you where she went.”
Sor turned away from him, heading back upstairs.
“Hey,” he said. “Where are you going?”
“I’m going to try to find her.”
“In your bedroom?”
Sor didn’t respond, and Zebra started climbing the stairs after her until Gabe placed himself in his way. “I’m not done talking to you,” Zebra called past him.
She didn’t respond to that, either, and Gabe made himself an effective wall. So, he went back down the stairs and let himself out.
Maybe this was for the best. If Sor knew where Katters could be, and she could find her, then he didn’t actually need to do anything. He could just go home and relax until all the work was done, which was what he wanted to do from the start.
But a small, annoying part of his brain kept reminding him that Sor was largely incompetent, and insane to boot. She wasn’t going to find Katters — if she did, he’d eat Spike — and it would be stupid of him to trust the job to her.
And Zebra couldn’t abide being stupid.
There was a café across the street from the bookstore. Zebra took up a table inside, and waited to see what Sor would do.
Even if she wouldn’t help him, and even if he couldn’t rely on her to solve his problems for him, she was still his best lead. Now that she knew Katters was missing, her next step would also be his next step.
She appeared fifteen minutes later in a scarf and wool coat, holding her phone to her ear. She started walking down the street, and Zebra ran out of the café to tail her.
She was having an excessively animated conversation with whomever was on the other line, but Zebra was too far away to catch what she was saying, and he didn’t want to risk closing that distance.
Was she talking to Katters? Zebra’d tried calling her before, but she wouldn’t answer. Maybe Katters really was avoiding him, though he couldn’t fathom why.
But then, Sor might not be talking to her at all — maybe she and Katters had a mutual friend, although Zebra was pretty sure Katters had no friends to speak of. She never went anywhere, which was why it was so odd when she vanished. Where would she have been meeting people, let alone making friends with them?
Sor stopped abruptly and looked up and down the street — Zebra dove for cover behind some shrubs. It was quick thinking and he managed to do it with the same poise and grace with which he does everything.
She was still distracted by her phone and hadn’t seen him, waving her arm around like an amateur thespian doing Hamlet. He was just reconsidering trying to get closer and listen in, when she hung up and shoved the phone into her pocket. But she stayed where she was — under a bus stop.
That was a problem. There was no way Zebra was getting on that bus without her noticing. Luckily, buses weren’t the only way to get around Snowtown.
Zebra’s rideshare showed up just as the bus did. A small, blue car, driven by a familiar and similarly small man. Kendrick Reese, who had given Zebra rides before, and who stopped by the shops from time to time.
“You’ve got, uh, something in your hair, B,” Kendrick said as Zebra got into the back seat.
He called Zebra “B” because Zebra had put his legal name into the rideshare app, and Kendrick fancied himself hip. Zebra didn’t like this very much, but Kendrick had decided that “Zebra” was not a real name and refused to use it.
Zebra pulled a twig out of his hair and pointed it at the windshield. “Follow that bus.”
Kendrick didn’t look eager to comply, but pulled away from the curb and behind the bus. “What for?”
“My friend is on it. I want to see where she goes.”
“Why don’t you just ask her?”
“She won’t tell me. It’s a long story.”
Kendrick pursed his lips and let the bus pull further away from them, though he did keep driving. “I’m not comfortable with this, B.”
Zebra leaned into the gap between the front seats, balancing himself with a hand on each of them. “My partner is missing,” he explained, a little exasperated, “and I think my friend knows where they are, but she won’t tell me.”
Because she’s a nutcase and hates me for no good reason, Zebra thought. “She’s a little funny,” he said, instead, making brief and meaningful eye contact through the rear-view mirror. “She’s a magic-user.”
It was likely Kendrick had the same opinion of magic-users as most reasonable people, but even if he was sympathetic, it was undeniable that users had a reputation for irrational behaviour.
But he didn’t seem convinced. “If your partner’s missing,” he asked, “why don’t you just call the police and file a report?”
Zebra sat back. He’d lost him. Had never had him.
If Kendrick was the sort of person to suggest calling the cops in Snowtown, he was too far gone to convince him of anything rational or sane. Maybe Kendrick was a user, himself — it was a possibility Zebra’d never considered before, but he was either funny or hopelessly naïve.
Probably the latter. He was an impeccable driver, too safety-conscious to be a user.
“I did,” Zebra lied, watching the bus continue to gain ground from them. “They’re investigating, but in the meantime, I’m more comfortable looking on my own than staying at home and waiting.”
The bus’ blinker turned on and it started to slow.
“That makes sense, but why can’t they talk to your friend?”
Jesus, and now he was advocating turning a magic-user in to police custody. What planet did Kendrick live on? Not that Zebra would mind doing that to Sor — he would have to find an excuse for it at some point, maybe as a treat for his birthday.
If Katters was dead, maybe he could find a way to frame Sor for it.
The bus stopped, and Kendrick idled behind it. Sor got off, looked up and down the street before deciding on a direction, and started walking away from Kendrick’s car.
“This is fine,” Zebra said, opening his door and ignoring Kendrick’s protests about car safety. He got out and — completely lost track of Sor.
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