Excerpt: 'Cathy's Ring'

"You stole my perfume," said an angry voice with a sharp Texas twang. "Hey, it's my Evil Twin, Jewel." The last time we were in a room together, ten hours ago, she was the one who killed Tsao. Then she took the money out of his wallet and forced me to give her my driver's license at gunpoint. I had been hoping I would never hear from her again. This is known as wishful thinking. "Gee, it's great to hear your voice," I said. In the background I could hear drunk people talking, bottles clinking, and the steady thud-thud of loud obnoxious dance music. "Where are you calling from?"

"Payphone at the Baptist church," Jewel said. "Listen, you took that perfume out of my purse this afternoon."

"No way," I said, turning the crystal bottle in my hands. "That would be stealing." Strictly speaking, the liquid in the bottle wasn't really perfume, it was a very special sort of poison—a complex chemical agent that took away the gift of immortality. My life had suffered a sudden and surprising infestation of immortals—my father, my boyfriend, and my boyfriend's angry ex-boss, Ancestor Lu, to name but a few—so to tell you the truth, there was something very comforting about holding that little pot of poison. In a small, mean way it felt good to think that with one well-timed spritz those godlike beings with eternal lives, lightning reflexes, and supernatural healing abilities could be reduced to ordinary human status again, at the mercy of pain and time and death like the rest of us. "Maybe you just forgot where you put it," I said. "For example, I can't find my driver's license." "Very funny." I could hear Jewel stop to take a drink of something. "Have the cops showed up yet?"

"Not yet." Ever since I got home I had been wondering if I was about to get a visit from the Flat Feet of the Law. Because of an incident a few months back, the police had my fingerprints on file. If they got a good print from the hotel room, it was only a matter of time until their computers would identify me as a person of interest in Tsao's murder. Technically speaking I was innocent, but lying to the police is always dangerous, and telling them the truth—that my boyfriend's immortal father had a crush on me but was shot to death by my evil twin after having been dosed with a secret mortality serum—that was obviously a non-starter.

Jewel turned her mouth away from the phone. "Barkeep," she said. "Hey, Numb Nuts—yeah, you. Gimme another beer. Okay, I'm back. No cops, huh? Well, that might be good, or it might be bad." She chugged thoughtfully on her beer. "Good version, maybe you just didn't leave a lot of prints."

"What's the bad version?"

"Well, Tsao told me Ancestor Lu has some real spooky computer guys who can make things like police records just disappear. They might have wiped out your old fingerprint files."

"Why would Ancestor Lu do me a favor?"

"He wouldn't," Jewel said dryly. "The bad version is that Lu wants to take you out himself, and you're easier to whack if you aren't locked up in a nice secure jail cell."

I swallowed. "Ah."

"How's Denny?" Jewel asked. "Did you get him to a doctor?" Denny was Jewel's brother. Tsao had broken his arm earlier in the day. The last thing Jewel said before she killed Tsao was, "Nobody hits my brother but me." "He's in the hospital. I was there until a couple of hours ago. He won't be playing the piano anytime soon, but he'll live."

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