“My husband was one of you,” the doctor said, smiling fondly. But her smile faded. “That’s why my mother killed him.”
Detective Penelope Locke let the first odd comment slide for the moment. She crossed her arms, a gesture she used to keep herself from rushing the interrogation now that she had gotten so much new and significant information. “So, it’s your mother we should be talking to.”
The doctor wiped tears away from red-rimmed, bloodshot eyes. She had been crying when they brought her in to the station and the slow but steady drip of tears had not stopped till just now.
“I wouldn’t dare it, detective.” She sniffed and straightened her back. “It seems I’ll have to pay for this crime. I’m ready to confess.”
There was a yellow legal pad and a pen before her. Penny had brought them in with her. She left the interrogation room and stood outside with her partner, Stanley Gomez, watching the doctor start writing out her confession.
“That was weird,” Stan said, handing her a mug of hot tea. Penny was trying to quit coffee.
“I thought we didn’t find any living family of hers.”
“We didn’t,” Stan said. “According to our records, her folks are deceased. Natural causes for both.”
“We know she didn’t do it. Why is she confessing?”
“Does it matter? She might have hired the real perp.”
“It matters if she’s confessing to cover for someone.” Penny turned to her partner. Penny and Stan knew things that they were not revealing to the woman who was still a possible suspect. Things that were overwhelming for Penny to know. Things that made her case more complicated than she first thought it was.
“If she’s just an accomplice or a patsy, then our real killer is out there,” Penny said. “We need to find her—or him. And if this crime was not personal, then that killer may still be a danger.”
Stan nodded. “She finally stopped crying.”
Stan’s observation was a significant one. Dr. Stella Black was a crier according to her colleagues at the hospital and even the few friends and neighbors that had spoken to the detectives. Her supervisor described her as extremely sensitive and caring too much for each patient, long after she was done with them. Dr. Black was an abdominal surgeon. The postoperative care for her patients was often the responsibility of other hospital staff. But Dr. Black would not let go until her patients were well. She wept when she lost a patient, which was rare. But she also wept when her patients did well. Some of her colleagues found it to be unprofessional. They thought it undermined Dr. Black’s authority and perhaps the authority of the other doctors and staff at the hospital by extension. Her supervisor and the hospital administrators didn’t seem to mind though. Since she joined the hospital, patient recovery rates had improved. Morbidity and mortality rates had decreased significantly. Even patients who weren’t her patients were doing better. Hospital-acquired infections had dropped to almost zero percent. And the statistics were only getting better as time wore on. Sentimentality could be overlooked in the face of such astonishing results. Still, it was an odd detail, the crying.
Penny already knew that the doctor had not personally tried to murder her husband. In fact, one scenario they were considering is that someone was setting the good doctor up. It wasn’t the tears that convinced them. Tears could be faked. It was the lack of evidence. They had been investigating the case for about seventy-two hours. The first time they brought Dr. Black in, it was to identify her husband’s body and to answer questions about who might have a reason to do him harm.
Mr. Black had been on his way to his car after saying goodnight to the on-duty guard. Less than thirty minutes later, the guard finished his regular patrol and realized that Black’s car was still in its spot. He searched and found Black lying beside his car, in a pool of his own blood. He had no pulse. But his body was still warm. Dr. Black was home alone at the time. She would have had no alibi. She had used the internet and her cell phone’s GPS showed her at home. All of that could have been faked. But Dr. Black had ordered in that night. And the Black residence had a security system that included a camera at the front door. The video showed her receiving her delivery just as the guard was searching for her husband dozens of miles away. She had remained a suspect. She could have had someone else do it. But there didn’t seem to be any motive. No evidence of affairs or financial troubles or any other wrongdoing on the part of either spouse.
“We know you’re not the killer, Doctor,” Penny said. “At least, you didn’t do the deed yourself. You say your mother did it. At your request? Or to punish you? Whose side is she on? And this is your birth mother, I assume. What’s your story? Tell us the truth?”
“The truth would be unbelievable to you at this point.”
Stan leaned forward, folding his hands before him on the table. “Try us.”
The doctor looked at both detectives. She took a deep breath and exhaled. She put her arms on the table and leaned forward.
“I’m a changeling. My…birth mother, as you say, left me at the doorstep of that lovely couple that became my true family. Recently, she came back to get me, because she learned what I could do. But I refused to go with her.”
“So you were abandoned?”
Dr. Black nodded. “My parents had a close friend who was a lawyer and he helped them get their papers in order, a birth certificate and whatnot. I didn’t look much like either of my parents. Got teased for it but never gave it much thought. When I was old enough, my mother told me. She expected me to go looking for the person who had abandoned me at her doorstep. She feared I would be just like the one who spawned me. And that I would abandon her. I did no such thing. I told her she was my mother and that was that. She worried that the woman who gave me up would come looking for me. Or perhaps my birth father would find out and seek me. But no one ever came. Not until I proved that I might be of some use.”
“You became a successful doctor and she came looking for a handout?”
Dr. Black shook her head. “She came looking for more than that.” She sighed. “You won’t believe the tale I tell you, but it doesn’t matter now anyway. I’ve confessed.”
Penny was growing tired of being jerked around. “If you didn’t try to kill your husband, why are you confessing? Don’t you want us to find his killer? Don’t you love him enough to tell the truth about his death?”
It was the only time that Penny saw the doctor angry. Dr. Black had brilliant green eyes that sparkled even when she was crying. But they actually seemed to grow a few shades darker as she frowned. And Penny could have sworn the room felt colder.
“My husband is gone. I can’t save him. He wouldn’t want me to risk bringing his killer to justice if it meant more people would be in danger.”
“But aren’t more people in danger now? If his killer is still out there?”
“My mother won’t kill anyone else. So long as she gets what she wants. Me.”
“How?” Stan asked. “You just confessed to your husband’s murder. That means you’ll be in jail for a very long time.”
Dr. Black let out a weary breath. Her shoulders sagged. “It won’t be me doing that time. It will be some poor doppelganger left in my place.”
Penny narrowed her eyes. “So you’re telling us to our faces that your mother, after killing your husband, is going to break you out of jail?”
Dr. Black looked down at her hands. “My mother came to me about a year ago or so, told me who she was, proved herself by the color of her hair and her eyes and an offer to do a DNA test. She told me who I was—what I was. She told me I had a rare talent, even for our people. Once I got over my skepticism, which wasn’t hard considering what I’d witnessed with my own eyes, I decided I would try to learn how to hone my ability. It’s been trial and error though, without any proper guidance or knowledge base to turn to.”
“What are you talking about? What ability? Surgery?”
Dr. Black shook her head. “I’m a good surgeon, that’s true. Steady hands and a delicate touch, and I’d probably get really great with practice. But that’s not my true ability. I’m a good surgeon. But I’m a spectacular healer. And all it takes is a few tears.”
At the corner of her eye, Penny noted a slight shift in Stan’s posture. He’d been insisting that the doctor’s crying had some significance to the case, other than honest grief or fakery. The doctor tilted her head to the right and brought her right hand up to her face. She blinked slowly and deliberately. A tiny droplet formed at the outer corner of her eye. It grew larger and larger and what at first appear to be a teardrop now seemed to condense and form into a glass bead the size of a pinky fingernail. It fell into the doctor’s hand.
Penny felt the hairs on her neck rise. She’d seen internet videos of this kind of thing, someone supposedly weeping glass fragments. But to see something like that in person…
Dr. Black set the glass bead, her tear, down on the table. “If you ever have a headache, drop that into a cup of water and drink it.”
No thanks, Penny thought. But Stan reached over and picked up the glass bead. He gasped as he touched it.
“It’s warm,” he said.
“It will take to the count of ten, no more than fifteen, and your headache will be gone.”
“Doesn’t seem hygienic,” Penny said.
It was meant as a quip, but the doctor nodded. “If I were in ill health, it would not be advisable for me to do that.”
“How did you do it?” Stan asked rolling the tear between his thumb and forefinger as he held it up.
“A parlor trick?” Penny said.
“It could have been. But it’s not.”
“My mother told me I am a fairy. She is one as well.” The doctor gave a mirthless laugh. “She said she had some position of power or regality. That she was a sovereign. She told me that my spirit was unique and that the power of tears was a rare gift. No other fairy she knew of had that gift. Mostly tears were for healing but they have other uses, more valuable uses. More valuable to her anyway, and that was why she sought me when her eyes and spies in the mortal world found me out.”
She stopped then and looked between both detectives.
“Keep going,” Stan said. Penny peered at the doctor but gave away no emotion.
Dr. Black raised her brows. “You believe me?” Then she lowered her brows and eyed them both with suspicion. “You don’t believe me.” She leaned back in her chair and looked between them again. “Are you trying to determine if I’m mentally competent?”
“We’re not qualified to make that determination,” Penny said.
Stan jumped in. He was the one who liked these kinds of cases, the ones with the touch of the weird and surreal. Only weird and surreal usually had a practical explanation. “We have cause to believe that something unusual is going on in this case.”
“And that you have special insight into what the unusual aspect might be,” Penny said.
Stan gave her an empathetic smile. “After that demonstration, we are even more convinced that you ‘know something’ as it were.”
Penny wasn’t as convinced as Stan was, even though she had seen some independent evidence of the story the doctor was spinning. Penny and Stan were beating around the bush, trying to get the doctor to confirm that the puzzle pieces they had connected showed the correct image. She was skeptical of them because they weren’t skeptical of her.
“‘Unusual’ is an understatement, detectives,” Dr. Black said. She leaned forward again and started talking.
“Like I said. I’m a fairy, according to this woman who claims to be my mother. We’re a different species, of course, and a totally different lineage going back through time. I was able to corroborate some of what she told me. Fairies aren’t born with souls as humans are. They—we—have something called an animum. An animating spirit. We can acquire a soul by stealing it from a human. Or we can develop one on our own. Most fairies don’t bother, because acquiring a soul means surrendering the animum and becoming a mortal. The animum keeps a fairy eternally young and only violence or accidents could do us in. It also gives us access to powers in the natural world that mortal creatures cannot access. A human soul is powerful, but trapped in a mortal body, it can do little. It isn’t until mortals die that they truly begin to realize their potential. Mortal life is meant to be preparation and practice for what comes after. But so many human beings don’t get to live the lives they were meant to. Some because they give up. Others because they are cut down by violence and brutality. Like my husband.”
She paused then and looked at the detectives as if to remind them all why they were really there. Mr. Black.
“Our world here is mostly shielded from supernatural and otherworldly forces. Such forces and beings leak into this world from time to time. Sometimes they cause harm. Sometimes they do good. Sometimes they go unnoticed.”
She paused again and looked down at her hands. After several seconds, someone’s chair squeaked and Dr. Black seemed to snap out of some remembrance or contemplation.
“She told me that I had grown a soul from living among humans. It was rare for that to happen, even among changelings, she said. And even rarer was that I still had an animum. She thinks that’s why I have this gift.”
“You can heal with your tears,” Stan said. Penny heard the quiet awe in his voice.
Dr. Black smiled. “I can do a few other things, but that’s the best one.” She blinked again and leaned forward. A crystal-blue tear dropped to the table and spread out into a puddle of frost, releasing a puff of fog.
Now that, Penny thought, was more impressive.
Penny had a file in front of her. A thick file of mostly redacted information. Information that Penny had found hard to swallow. Without it, she would have walked out of the room as soon as the good doctor said “fairy.”
She slid the file toward Dr. Black. “We believe you,” she said.
The file had been obtained by their Captain from a government agency that didn’t have an official public presence. Rumors were all that Penny had heard before she became a detective. Of an agency that investigates cases that deal with atypical–some say paranormal–things, people, and happenings. An agency that handled extraordinary crimes.
The file was on the woman who claimed to be Dr. Black’s mother. There was a little background information about the faire folk in there. Some of it was the kind of stuff that Penny read to her kids at bedtime. Some of it was the kind of stuff that her kids had nightmares about.
The doctor flipped through the file, her eyes widening at first, then narrowing. Penny gave her a few moments before she spoke.
“Dr. Black, you have to help us find your mother.”
The doctor’s green gaze lifted slowly from the file and rested on Penny’s. “I won’t go up against her. You shouldn’t either. She may be worthless, but she’s also powerful. She won’t bother with the mortal world once she’s got me. You have my word.”
“Your word? The word of an admitted liar?”
Dr. Black sighed. “I’m not lying about this.”
Penny had pushed enough. She had to use her trump card now. “Your husband’s body isn’t showing the usual signs of decay.”
The doctor blinked. She frowned.
“Our medical examiner hasn’t conducted an autopsy, because she isn’t convinced that he’s dead,” Stan explained. “He appears to be dead by medical and clinical definitions. He’s not breathing. Doesn’t seem to have a heartbeat. No brain functions. But his body isn’t stiffening up. His color isn’t changing as expected. We thought that maybe it was some kind of very dangerous drug.”
“Designed to make it appear he was dead,” Penny said. “And our guess is that this drug or…enchantment…whatever it is won’t last very long. I don’t know if it will wear out on its own and he wakes up or if a counter-agent has to be applied somehow to wake him.”
Dr. Black’s gaze had bounced between the detectives as they spoke. Her mouth was agape. “He’s alive,” she whispered.
“We believe so. But our folks don’t think he’ll stay that way long if his brain doesn’t get oxygen. He’s running out of time. And that’s why we need your help to find the person responsible.”
“How?” Dr. Black whispered it at first. Penny had quite literally knocked the breath out of the woman and she didn’t feel proud of it, but she had a man to save and an attempted murder to solve. “How? How?” she repeated, just as she had when they first told her that her husband had been killed. “He was covered in blood. When you showed him to me.”
“That was from a defensive wound,” Stan explained. “We knew it wasn’t the cause of death, but we suspected poison from the first. That’s what made you a possible suspect. If it was poison, then you might have given it to him long before he was attacked at work. But the medical examiner now thinks that wound may have been how the drug was administered. There aren’t any other marks on his body from any recent injury. We found the residue of some kind of unknown compound in and around the wound. And lower levels in his blood. We think that’s the poison, but we haven’t been able to identify it, at least not yet.”
Dr. Black nodded. They had explained to her that they were still working on the cause of death. They had mentioned poison. But she had only stared ahead at the time, likely not comprehending, weeping round silent tears that gleamed like pearls.
“I want to see him,” the doctor said. “I want to see proof that he’s still alive.”
That was all it took to convince her. The doctor stood over her husband’s body. He was no longer on a metal examination table. He was on a hospital cot hooked up to monitoring equipment set at highest sensitivity. And they displayed the slightest signs of life.
Dr. Black turned to the detectives, her eyes a dark shade of green.
“You cannot face a fairy queen with bullets, detective.” The doctor raised her hands to her face. “At least, not the bullets you currently have in your guns.” She tilted her head and blinked a few times.
When the doctor blinked, black shards of what looked like a glossy metal dripped from the corners of her eyes. She caught them in her hands and offered them up to Penny.
“There should be enough here for three or four bullets, I think, if you melt them down and mold them.”
Penny received the shards. They felt very warm, barely bearable to the touch.
“I’ve never tried that before. I don’t know for certain it will work. This…magic or whatever it is I’m doing. I’m doing it mostly by instinct.”
Penny tucked the tears away. “Dr. Black, you should know that the agency that’s keeping that file on your mother will be involved in taking her down. And they will take custody of her. They seem to be in agreement with you about how dangerous she is.”
A starburst of yellow expanded from the doctor’s pupils and made her eyes appear green and gold. “And you’re wondering about how dangerous I am.”
“I’d be stupid not to.”
Dr. Black nodded. “So after you’ve got her, you intend to hold on to me?”
“We’ve got no cause to hold you. But that file should tell you that someone will be watching. Someone probably has been since you showed up at your parents’ doorstep.”
Of the takedown, Penny and Stan had little part. Penny was surprised by how quietly it was done. There were no swords and fireballs. If the doctor’s mother was indeed a fairy queen, she must have been traveling without her guards and retinue. She was lured into their trap after the good doctor made an angry call in which she told mostly the truth. She knew her husband was still alive, and that her fairy mother was the cause of all her grief over him. She demanded that her mother meet her and give her the antidote. The police and the agents involved were monitoring the call. Unsurprisingly, the doctor’s mother reminded Penny of a con artist, the way she tried to convince the doctor that her tears held the key to saving her husband, if that’s what she chose to do.
But the doctor, for someone who was perceived as being so sensitive and easily moved, seemed utterly indifferent to her fairy mother’s conniving. She claimed that she didn’t have time to learn how to heal her husband and needed her mother to stop fooling around and give her an antidote.
Penny wasn’t the one who held the gun full of fairy tear bullets. She wasn’t the big hero who shot down the evil fairy. There was no shooting at all. Not after they surrounded the so-called fairy queen at the same park bench where she had first approached the doctor. Not after the agent with the fairy bullets declared what his gun was loaded with. A look of utter surprise and startled fear crossed her face as she surrendered without a fight.
Penny and Stan watched the doctor reunite with her husband. They had found no antidote. And even after interrogation, the doctor’s fairy mother insisted that there never had been one. Penny thought the doctor would despair when she heard this, but she didn’t.
“My fairy mother was right about one thing,” Dr. Black said. “My tears can wake him up from this.”
She let the medical examiner, Penny, Stan, and one unnamed black-coated government agent watch as she wept over her husband, not tears of grief and loss, but tears of healing. Some tears were honey-colored and seemed almost as viscous. Some tears were crystalline and glassy. Some tears were red and opaque just like blood. She let them drip over his body and his face. The crystal ones she placed on his skin and they melted away. After a few hours, he began to stir. The first thing he did was turn his head and open his mouth. And some foul grey-water-looking stuff came out of his mouth. Dr. Black said it was the poisons and toxins in his body, including whatever her fairy mother had infected him with. His chest rose slightly. Dr. Black had insisted he not be hooked up to monitoring equipment. That the pulses and sounds might interfere with her work. So those small signs were all the signs they had that he was returning to the land of the living.
The doctor stopped weeping then. She told everyone there was nothing further to watch. All that was left was waiting. She sat beside her husband’s cot. She took one of his hands and held it between hers.
Penny and Stan had to leave then. They had other cases. They asked the medical examiner to let them know if and when Mr. Black woke up.
As they left, Penny glanced back. She remembered the look of surprise and fear on the fairy mother’s face. It made her wonder. The whole case had made her wonder. The world held enough mysteries for her without adding the likes of magical tears and fairy queens.
Still, she knew now that such things were real. And maybe it was a good thing that there was such a powerful healer in their midst. Stan certainly seemed mesmerized and inspired, as did the medical examiner. But Dr. Black’s tears could do more than heal. It was good that someone was keeping an eye on her, even if that someone was some clandestine government organization that made Penny wonder who watched over them.
Dr. Black turned to watch them go and smiled. Penny waved. And as she turned to leave, she decided she’d keep her own eye on the good doctor.
Copyright © 2015 by Nila L. Patel