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The Next Generation · Original Short Story ·
Organised by GaPJaxie
Word limit 3000–12000


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The Fixer
The Fixer

New York City was not a good place for a unicorn to live.

Perhaps children could stretch their imagination enough to envision a unicorn in Central Park, forever just out of view in the concealing underbrush, which—to a child—could almost be a forest glen. There were, after all, small faerie doors here and there, and where there were faeries, might there not be unicorns?

In truth, Clémence did occasionally visit Central Park, although she felt little need to conceal herself in the underbrush. It wasn't the most convenient park; there was a long strip park between Chrystie and Forsyth that was much closer to her apartment, although it wasn't as nice. But the kids who visited the park liked her, and that was something.

Her ads on Craigslist generally went unanswered for no reason she could discern. Her mother was in LA and got movie roles all the time, along with a constant string of invitations to birthday parties and gay pride parades. Thus far, her only real success had been a bit part in a GoDaddy commercial.

In letters, though, she told her mother that things were going well. A little white lie, but one told with the best of intentions.

Clémence didn't want to give up on New York City. Forest glens were nice, but they didn't have a street booth selling hand-made gelato.

Her window gave her a commanding view of the neighborhood. She could stand out on the iron fire escape—even though she wasn't supposed to—and watch the traffic moving down Mulberry Street in fits and starts. On nice days, she could watch the diners enjoying their meal at Pellegrino’s, sitting on the white plastic patio chairs.

Besides the people, there were so many shops and restaurants! The oldest cheese shop in America was only a block from her apartment. She didn't like cheese, but went there anyways to appreciate the history of it.

On the other hand, forest glens lacked neighbors who cooked food with far too much garlic or launched into blistering tirades at their televisions at two A.M. None of the nymphs she knew would have ever slipped a tract under her door encouraging her to find Jesus, or hung a flyer advertising 3 Cheeser Bread For Only 99¢ on her doorknob.

She checked her Craigslist ads as a force of habit—as usual, there had been no replies—and then checked her personal email. There was a letter from her mother with too many emojis in the title and that was it. Out of a sense of duty, she read the letter, but as expected there was nothing worth caring about.

A knock at the door perked her ears, and she got up and peered through the peephole. She'd already learned that most people who came calling were either Jehovah's witnesses or cable company salesmen, neither of whom were very interesting.

At a quick glance, it wasn’t a salesman. The man knocking at her door had a salt and pepper brush cut and a potbelly. He was wearing jeans and a stained white T-shirt. She'd seen him before; she was fairly confident that he lived one floor down, although she couldn't be certain since most humans looked the same.

She slid the chain back and opened the door.

“Uh,” he stammered. “I—okay. This is gonna sound like something out of a dumb movie.”

“Are you going to tell me how Jesus will lower my cable bill?”

“Ah, no.” He rubbed the back of his balding head. “I just . . . I was going to make gnocchi for dinner, and I was halfway done with the recipe and then I ran out of flour.”

She looked at him blankly.

“You know, because it's always a neighbor asking for a cup of sugar or something dumb like that?”

Clémence frowned. Nobody had ever asked her for a cup of sugar.

“Eh, never mind. It was stupid for me to ask. Sorry for wasting your time. I just thought—”

“Just thought?” Clémence frowned. “I do have flour. It comes in big bags, you know.” She'd noticed that the bodega often sold things in small packages for far more than they ought to cost, especially since the bigger stores had them for less.

“Yeah, I know.” He leaned up against the doorway, not quite crossing the threshold into her apartment, but not far from it either.

Sometimes stores weren't open when she thought that they would be. She'd gone to pick up a package from her mother, except that it turned out that the post office was closed because it had been Presidents' Day.

“What are you making?”

“Gnocchi,” he said. “The right way. Like Nonna made.”

“You live a floor down.”

He nodded. “Under your apartment. When you moved in . . . your feet aren't the quietest. I thought that the super had rented to an elephant, no offense.”

“I am sorry.”

“It’s not your fault..” He glanced down briefly at her hooves, and then the hardwood floor of her apartment. “Rugs might help.”

“Rugs, yes.” She shifted slightly on her hooves, suddenly conscious of the noise. “You—do you really need that much garlic in your food?”

Now it was his turn to look sheepish. “Sorry.”

“There are no vampires, you know.”

“Coming from a unicorn, that's rich.”

“I did not mean to sound snarky.”

“Nor did I.” He stuck out a hand. “Marcus Beratta. I'm your downstairs neighbor, who cooks with too much garlic.”

“And I am Clémence, who sounds like an elephant.” She held out a hoof. “I—I have plenty of flour, if you need some.”

Marcus hesitated for a moment before grasping her pastern and shaking her foreleg. “I’ll wait out here.“

“Just come in. The flour is in the kitchen.”

Marcus followed her into her apartment. There wasn't much in the way of furnishings; a Goodwill couch and bookshelf with tattered paperbacks—also from Goodwill—and her computer desk occupied the living room. There were also dozens of pots filled with indoor plants which didn't quite thrive in the city despite her best efforts.

Her kitchen was spartan, although it had plenty of cupboard space for various baking supplies, including three different kinds of flour. “Which do you prefer?”

Gluten-free was too faddish for Marcus's nonna, so he selected a bag of King Arthur white flour.

While Clémence was lacking in spare measuring cups, she did happen to have a collection of red Solo cups abandoned by the previous tenant that were perfect for the task at hand.

Marcus left with a Solo cup full of flour, and Clémence futilely checked her Craigslist one more time before moving to the front window and sticking her head out to people-watch.

She didn't expect for there to be another knock at her door a few hours later. It was Marcus again, and he had a paper plate with him. “I didn't know if you'd had dinner yet,” he said. “I didn't put any garlic in it, if you're worried.”

“I was not.” She could smell the lack of garlic.

“I—where are my manners?”

Clémence held the door open for him. “Come in. Nobody has cooked me dinner before.”

“Really?” Marcus frowned. “You . . . look, forget about the hooves. I'm sorry I mentioned it.”

“No, I am glad you brought it up.” Clémence glanced back at her computer. “I was thinking about rugs. Did you know that you can get rugs delivered from the internet?”

“Yeah, you can get pretty much anything on there,” he said. “Were you looking?”

“I thought about it.” There was no sense in lying to a neighbor. “It would be kind of like grass.”

He nodded. “Yeah. Might make the place look a little more cheerful, you know? No offense.”

“None taken.” She followed him into the kitchen. “If you do not mind my asking—the other tenants are not as neighborly as you.”

“Well.” He shrugged. “I guess, this city, you know. Anybody could be anything.”

“Like a unicorn?”

“Yeah.” He set the plate on the counter. “This city, the melting pot of America, am I right? That's a paper plate, you can just toss it when you're done. It's best when it's fresh, if you're hungry. Otherwise refrigerate it, and it’ll keep for a day or two.”


Clémence got a gig in a Jera Sky music video. It wasn't much as a job went, but it was better than data entry.

There was a lot of standing around waiting: making a movie was much more boring than she'd imagined. There was a snack table, but she wasn't sure if she was allowed to eat anything on it, plus she had butterflies in her stomach. She wondered if human actors had the same feeling of nervousness before the shoot.

Rain was nice. It washed the dirt off the street, and made everything shiny and glossy. The smells of the city were muted and different; rain it was something that the city couldn't cover even though it tried.

The plastic tables outside of Pellegrino's were deserted. When they weren't in use, they were stacked up and kept close to the front of the restaurant, where she could barely see them from the fire escape.

She sat on her couch and watched the water run down the glass, watched as it pooled at the bottom frame and then fell off in brief stream before changing back into irregular drops.

She was moving her plants to the balcony when there was a knock at her door.


He nodded. “Did you like the gnocchi?”

“It was good.” She frowned. “I should have told you.”

“It's okay.” He glanced at her open window, and the cluster of pots on the fire escape. “Are you—”

“I thought they would like the rain.”

“Of course.” He moved into the living room and picked up a ficus. “Sometimes I wonder what plants think. Do they know that they're in little pots?”

“I would not know.”

“Really?” Fitting the ficus through the window without hurting its leaves forced Marcus to lean far outside, dampening his t-shirt.

“I cannot talk to plants.”

“I just thought—“

“Animals, yes, and fey.” She scuffed a hoof against her new throw rug. “I mean, I know what plants like.”


“It is not natural for them to be inside. Even with the windows open—“

“It’s not the same as being outside.” He picked up a violet.


“I've got a special light that's supposed to be the same as the sun,” he said. “Gives me vitamin D or something. But I know the difference. When I'm reading Garfield, and he's sitting on the windowsill in a sunbeam, I think ‘there's a cat that's got it made.’”

“Have you ever stretched out in a sunbeam?”

Marcus shrugged. “When I was a kid, I must’ve. These days, I go to sit on the floor, I don't get up as easy, you know?”

“You cannot lie on your belly?”

“It's big enough,” he admitted. “But no, it doesn't work like that.”

“That is a shame.” Clémence set her dracaena outside the window.


“So I always thought that unicorns only appeared to pure maidens.”

They were sitting on the couch in her apartment. She had taken up most of the cushions, leaving Marcus uncomfortably crowded at the end.

“That is just a human myth,” she said. “Like catching us with a golden bridle.”

“That doesn't work?”

“Maybe if you want to try a bribe.” Clémence snorted, nearly sending box Sangria out her nose.

“So that whole thing about purity and unicorns is wrong?”

“Not entirely,” she admitted. “But it is overrated. You are not pure.”

“Ain't that the truth.”

“But I let you in my apartment anyway,” she concluded.

“Yeah.” Marcus swirled the wine around in his Solo cup. “What's . . . okay, this is going to sound terribly stupid.”

“Go ahead.”

“I just can't believe that I knocked on your door asking for flour, you know?”

“Is that not something people do?”

“Only on TV.” Marcus took a sip of his wine. “Why New York City? Why aren't you frolicking around in the woods somewhere?”

“Like my Mom?”

“Woah.” Marcus held up a hand. “Sorry.”

“She wanted to go to California and be a movie star,” Clémence said. “It is working all right for her. She was in a movie with Neil Patrick Harris—have you heard of him? I wanted . . . New York City is more authentic, is it not?”

“Authentic, yeah.”

“The real human experience.”


“Ten million people all living and working together. I can walk a few blocks and the signs are in a different language.” She swirled around her wine absently. “There is a statue in the harbor, did you know, that welcomes everyone to America.”

“Like my ancestors.” Marcus took a sip of the wine. “Sure, why not. Italians, Chinese, Mexicans, Unicorns; it's all a big melting pot. That's what the nuns taught us in school. Maybe it's even true.”

“Do you think it is not?”

“I don't know. Back then I was hustling pool,” he admitted. “And making book. 'Stai lontano dalla folla,' my nonna said.”

“That's pretty,” Clémence said. “Is that—”


“Italian,” she repeated. “Such a pretty language.”

“I'm sure yours sounds nicer.”

“You think so? 'Svifnökkvinn minn er fullur af álum.'”

He nodded. “Beautiful.”

She hadn't been on Earth long enough to think it was strange that someone was knocking on her door at 2 am.

Clémence made her way cautiously through her darkened apartment. She did know that in the middle of the night it was better to not turn the lights on because if she did it was difficult to get back to sleep.


“Sorry, sorry.” He darted inside her door and pushed it shut, fumbling with the deadbolt. “I know it's the middle of the night.”

“It is okay.”

“And you were sleeping.”

“Well. . . . “

“I didn't know where else to go.” He glanced through the peephole, and then turned to face her. “I—“

“You are a mess,” she observed. “Did you have a nightmare?”

“I wish.” Marcus crossed her apartment and glanced out the window. “The cops . . . I shouldn't have come here. I—you oughtn't get involved.”

“Tell me.”

“What was I thinking?” He stormed across her rug and flopped on her couch. “You wouldn't understand.”

Her eyes glittered in the darkness. “Tell me.”

“It was a simple gig.”

“Go on.”

“He was moving in on our territory, you know? Dom—he can't allow that.”

“Of course not.” Clémence wasn't sure what Marcus was talking about, but he was a friend who needed reassurance.

“I didn't know he was an undercover cop.” Marcus ran his hands through his hair. “Wouldn't have known, but I snagged his wallet.”

She sat down on the couch next to him, and brushed her muzzle against his cheek.

“I shouldn't have checked, but you know, I thought he might have a roll on him, and I thought why not? Almost shit myself when I saw the badge.

“I ran. But it ain't going to take them too long before they come knocking.” His hand went down to the waistband of his pants. “I should—gotta get out.”

“You're safe here,” Clémence said.

“Safe for how long? I've still got the gun, for Christ's sake. I'll fry for this.”


“The chair?” He waved a hand. “Never mind. You don't know what that is. Thank God. There's a safe house over on Broome Street, I can go there. Maybe nobody saw me.” He tensed as a police siren wailed down the street.

“I can feel the fright on you.” Her voice was steady. “If you did what Dom said, why do you fear? Is he not your herd leader? Can he not protect you?”

Marcus shook his head. “He'll throw me under the bus. It's better that way.” He got up and walked to the window. “You're right. I'm not thinking straight. I'll keep my mouth shut and do my time, that's how it's got to be, and when I get out, I'll be a made man.”

“You are trying to be bold, but your voice says otherwise,” she observed.

“I should have ditched the gun.” His hand went to the waistband of his pants again. “If they can't find that. . . .”

“Is that all?” She studied him. Such a small thing. . . .

“'Is that all?' It's not like it's going to just vanish. Maybe if I had a little bit of time to get down to the East River, I could—“

“Give it to me.” Her voice was firm.

He slid the gun carefully out of his pocket and placed it on the coffee table. “There, but I don't see what—“

Her horn lit, only for a moment. The gun glowed and sparkled, and then it was gone as if it had never existed. Marcus stared at it, agog.

“Was that what you wanted?” Clémence's voice was unsure. “I—I do not know if I can bring it back.”

“Where did it go?”

“Back home. Away. Til skógsins.”

He nodded. “I . . . we need an alibi. For when the cops come. I’ll go back to my apartment, and . . . can you forget that I was here?”

“I cannot,” she admitted. “But I can lie.”

A police interrogation room was no place for a unicorn. Clémence sat in an uncomfortable plastic chair that was never made for a unicorn while the two officers grilled her.

She knew good cop/bad cop from marathoning Lethal Weapon on FX.

“We know that you know Marcus Beratta.”

“Of course I do.” She stuck her muzzle up slightly. “He lives downstairs in my apartment building. He uses too much garlic when he cooks.”

“He's been a very bad boy.” Detective Luis Mathas leaned across the table. He was the bad cop.

She remained silent.

“All we want to know is your side of the story.” That was Detective Laurie McCartney.

“That is all I know,” she lied. “He lives downstairs, and I met him when he wanted some flour to cook gnocchi. He comes up and visits sometimes. He was in my apartment when your troops kicked down my door.”

“What was he doing in your apartment?”

“Visiting.” She crossed her forelegs. “I could have got some if my door had not been kicked down. I was about to get out a box of wine and lower his inhibitions, is that was you want me to say?”

“You aren't—“ Detective McCartney was looking rather pale.

“And here I thought every girl wanted to get it on with a unicorn.” Clémence brushed her forelock back.

Detective Mathas clenched his fists. “I don't give a good goddam about his sex life, with you or anyone else. I want to know about the gun. Where did he hide it?”

“What gun?”

“There were witnesses,” Mathas said flatly. “And there was nowhere he could ditch it. You start talking right now, and tell me where it is. Because if it's in your apartment, we'll find it, and we're not going to go easy on you.”

“There is no gun in my apartment,” she said.

“We'll see about that.”

“I'm sorry.”

“Do not be sorry.”

“I shouldn't have dragged you in to it.”

“You are a friend.”

“Yeah.” He didn't turn to look at her. “I might as well have taken a knife to the Mona Lisa for all the friend I am. How come your unicorn sense didn't work?”

“It works just fine.” Clémence put her forelegs on the railing and studied the swan boats paddling across the pond. “I knew from the moment you knocked on my apartment door.”

“Then how come you let me in?”

“I do not know.” That, at least, was an honest answer. “Maybe because I have talked to one too many Jehovah's Witnesses. Maybe because I am rebelling against my Mom. Maybe because you have an honest-looking face.”


“Maybe because after six months in my apartment, you were the first of my neighbors to visit.”

“Shoulda closed the door in my face,” he said. “Dracula couldn't get in until somebody let him in.”

“I told them that we were fucking,” she said.


“You humans are obsessed with who's having sex with who, and—”

“Nobody would believe—”

“—Detective McCartney believed it. Detective Mathas was not sure. He did not want to, but he sort of did.”

Marcus slammed his fist against the bridge railing. “Why? Why did you—you coulda told them anything else. You couda told them the truth.”

“I know you have thought about it.” She didn't know that, not really, but it was a good guess. “And I know that they think you have thought about it. It disgusts them, but they cannot say why. Maybe I am a bad mare for bringing it up, I do not know, but I could not help myself. I was in an interrogation room.”

“Dom's . . . they could be listening.”


“You see that guy over there with the hoodie? Maybe he's one of them. Or there's somebody behind a tree with a shotgun mic. Waiting for me to say I did it.” He turned then, and put his hand on her back, where her mane met her shoulders. “Or waiting for—“

“Yes.” She turned, and brushed her muzzle against his chest, feeling for his flesh through his heavy parka. “Let them see. Let them wonder.”

“It's clean,” Alphonse said. “Nothing in the apartment, anyway. Don't mean that they won't stick a little suction cup mic to one of the windows, or maybe up against the wall next door. Don't talk too loud, and that won't be a problem.”

“I appreciate it, Al.”

“They probably are listening on the cell phone.”

“I already told her that. Told her not to use one to talk to me, ever. Except for an emergency, if she needs me to come over right away.”

“Yeah. That's smart.”

“Ought to get her a burner phone. But—”

“But if you do, you're bringing her into it. I don't tell the wife nothing,” Al said helpfully. “Family thinks I'm a plumber.”

“Well, what would you have done?” Marcus leaned up against the doorframe. “I wasn't thinking straight, the heat was on me, and maybe I thought she'd have some out for me. And I guess she did. What would your wife do?”

“Probably the same thing,” Al admitted. “Especially if she was cooking. God, she's chased me out of the kitchen before. So I got me a separate fridge, one of those little ones that fits under a coffee table. Fits a couple of six-packs, I can watch the game without getting in her way.” He set down his toolbox and moved close to Marcus. “Listen, Dom’s happy about how things went, but he don't know that you brought her into it. I shouldn'ta checked her apartment, but you're a standup guy, and I figured that if he don't know, it won't matter.”

“Relax, Al, I'm not going to tell her anything. Okay? She got me out of a jam, and that ends it.”

“All I'm saying is that you've got to be careful from here on out. Might be best if she just moves on, out of the city, while she still can.”

“Is that a threat?” Marcus's hand instinctively moved towards his hip.

“If he knows the talent she’s got . . . see, I think that Dom figures that you got her to stash it somewhere before you got hauled in, and the cops aren't clever enough to figure out where she put it.”

“They wouldn't find it even if she told them.”

“Yeah. That's what I thought. Guns aren't that hard to disappear, Marcus. That ain't so big a skill. But think of the other problems she could fix. And if it occurred to me, sooner or later it's going to occur to Dom, too.”

He tried to avoid her, but it wasn't easy, and after two days, he caved. Sneaking into his own apartment building was intolerable; lurking around with the lights off and watching television with the volume turned all the way down was pointless. It was no way to live.

He couldn't think of a single way to tell her without just telling her, so he knocked on her door and waited until he heard her hoofsteps crossing the living room.

“Marcus! Where have you been? I was worried. I thought that maybe the police had captured you again.”

“It's more complicated than that,” he said. “And I thought that we should discuss it over dinner. Umberto's has a back room that's nice and private.”

“Umberto's? The crab restaurant?”

“Yeah, that's—oh God, I wasn't thinking.”

She chuckled. “Marcus, it is fine.”

He laid it all out for her because he didn't want her to think that he was trying to push her away. He was sure at some point she'd become angry, get up from the table and storm out, and that would be the last he'd see of her. Maybe she'd go back to the forest where she belonged.

But she didn't. Her eyes sparkled with interest as he explained long cons and extortion, and as he started cutting into his vitello marsala, she asked him what he did for the mob.

And he told her, pulling no punches. He told her of the thrill and the danger, of the cat-and-mouse with the police, of the feeling of power when he walked down the street.

“I want to help,” she said. “I can help. Like I did before.”

“No.” Marcus crossed his arms. “That's totally out of the question. You need to go. Get out of this city before it corrupts you any more.”

“And then what? Frolic around chasing butterflies? Where is the fun in that? Where is the sense of power?”

“It's not all fun and games, Clémence. I don't even know—my bosses, they don't know what you did, see? But when they figure it out. . . .”

“I will have something useful to do. And they will like you more if you tell them about me, will they not?”

“They mustn't know. Once you get in that deep, you can't get out. You'll either wind up on the sidewalk with a bullet in you, or in federal prison.”

Clémence frowned. “Is it better to spend my days looking on Craigslist and hoping that somebody wants to hire me for a birthday or a parade?

“It's safer at least.” Marcus speared the last piece of veal with his fork.

“Please. I want this. I do not want to leave you.”

“Maybe there's a way we can make it work.” Marcus fell silent as he finished his meal.

Not telling Dom was a risk, a stupid, dangerous risk. But it was a risk he had to take.

There was always room for a fixer, someone who could make small problems disappear.

Marcus only dealt with weapons at first. For a hundred dollars, they would vanish forever.

Clémence stayed in the car when he made his pickups. He'd set the weapon on the passenger seat, and by the time he'd driven off, it was gone and it would never come back.

They had to invest in an air freshener; the continual use of magic stunk up the inside of his Mercury Milan.

She stopped looking at Craigslist ads, and started sleeping late.

Several weeks in, she started hinting that it would be more convenient for both of them if they shared an apartment. Marcus ignored this.

They were parked behind a 7-11, backed up to the dumpster. The arc-sodium lights didn't reach quite that far, leaving his face only a pale blur in the darkness.

Clémence was stretched out on the back seat, trying to think of something other than the pervasive odor of garbage that oozed through the seams of the Milan. Marcus was tapping his fingers on the steering wheel, waiting for their next client to arrive.

“This doesn't feel right,” he said. “My Spidey-sense is tingling.”

“What is a Spidey-sense?”

He swiveled around in his seat to face her. “A—so you know what superhero comics are, right?”

“Yes. Like the X-Men.” She sighed. “Hugh Jackman is so cute. I wonder if my Mom has ever met him?”

“So there's this guy called Spiderman who got bit by a radioactive spider, and now he's got super powers. And one of them is that he knows when something ain't right. Well, that's what I'm feeling right now.”

A pair of headlights interrupted him, sweeping across the parking lot and bouncing slightly as the car traversed the curb. “Is that them?”

“It must be.” Marcus turned his attention towards the approaching car. “Get your head down.”

She ducked below the seats, only the tip of her horn sticking up above the window frame.

There was a gentle whirring as Marcus lowered his window. Clémence listened to the muted rumble of the engine as the other car pulled up next to them.

She couldn't see, but that was the only sense of hers that was blocked, and she knew something was wrong. She couldn't pin her mind on what it might be, but she trusted her instincts, so she banged a hoof against the back of the driver's seat.

“You the fixer?”

“Fixer? You mean like, um, a plumber or something?” Marcus’s voice was strained. “I just, I'm just here to get some cigarettes.”

Cigarettes. She held that in her mind; it might be important later.

“Come on, don't be coy. I've got a gun.”

“Is this a robbery?” She felt the car move slightly as he shifted in his seat.

“You gonna get rid of it? I’ve got the cash.”

“Dumpster's right behind me, pal.” He reached for the key and started the car. “I don't want any trouble.”

“You dumb son of a bitch. NYPD. Shut the car down, Marcus. We're gonna have a nice talk back at the station.”

As if to punctuate his words, blue and red lights started strobing in the distance.

Marcus leaned back in the chair. They had nothing, and they knew it. His story sucked, but so what? Right now, his Milan was surely in the police impound lot, being gone over by a police technician, who would find nothing.

“I just was gonna get some cigarettes,” he insisted. “And then your detective mistook me for somebody else and busted me. That's all that there is to say.”

“You're parked at the back of a 7-11.”

“Yeah. Didn't want to be close to the door; some kid might have keyed my car.”

“At one A.M.”

“They're open 24 hours a day. No law against buying cigarettes at one A.M.”

“You don't even have a lighter.”

Marcus shrugged. “Car does.”

“Your story stinks.”

“So? It makes more sense than your fairy tale. And here I sit, while the real criminal gets off scot-free, because your detective shot his wad too quick.”

“What was your unicorn friend doing in the car?”

“Riding around.”

“That's it, huh?”



“Why not? Some law says that she can't ride around in my car when she wants to? You got a dog?”

“That's none of your business.”

“Some dogs like riding in cars, that's what I'm saying. I don't know why.”

“So this Clement, your unicorn friend from upstairs, she likes riding in the back of your car.”


“Uh-huh. And she likes riding in the back of your car. In the middle of the night.”

Marcus shrugged.

“And hanging out at 7-11 in the middle of the night.”

“We were looking for hookers, okay? Is that what you want to hear? But we couldn't find any stallions. We were going to check and see if there were any 24-hour stables that offered stud service, but they you showed up and busted us. How does that sound? That's just as crazy as your theory that I was gonna buy a gun from you in the 7-11 parking lot in the middle of the night.”

The detective rolled his eyes. “That's not the story she told us.”

“Of course it's not, because I just pulled it out my ass. Can I go back to my cell now, or do you want to ask some more inane questions?”

“He said that he wanted cigarettes.”

“And that's all?”

“That was all he said.”

“What kind?” Detective Mathas grinned. “Go on, tell me.”

“I do not know your brands,” she lied. “The ones that have a camel on them, I think.”

“How often does he smoke?”

“I do not know. He does not smoke around me, but I can smell cigarettes on him sometimes.”

“That's not what he told us. He told us that he was supposed to meet someone at 7-11 to ditch a gun. What do you know about that?”

Her ears flicked. “Is that some sort of human slang?”

“How do you make a living? Apartments in New York City ain't cheap.”

“I get money from my Mom. She lives in Los Angeles and is in movies and parades. She paid for my apartment, and I get the rest from little gigs here and there. Data entry on my computer.”

“We can check that.”

“You probably already have. Ég veit bragðarefur þínar. He wanted cigarettes, and that is all. Everything else you are making up because people are not trustworthy. If you had some evidence, you would not be asking all these stupid questions and trying to trick me with my words.”

They held him for three days, enough time for them to have disassembled his entire car if they'd wanted to. If there had been anything for them to find, they'd've found it, but there wasn't, so they didn't.

They were mightily curious about how the front passenger seat was slightly scorched, and they noticed the slight smell of ozone that the air freshener couldn't cover up, but they couldn't make any sense of it.

They let him go and gave him his car back, minus the air freshener.

The Milan presumably also now sported a GPS tracker somewhere—Marcus wasn't dumb enough to think otherwise—and he felt no need to figure out where it was. Not right away. He was going to keep his nose clean until the police found a new person of interest.

Clémence had other ideas. “It felt so good to beat them.” She pranced across her throw rug. “They even wanted me to take a polygraph test, but they could not understand the results. They told me that it was saying I was lying, but that was not true.”

“Can you be sure?” Marcus leaned back on her couch.

“I know. They could not even decide where to hook up the wires on the machine. They stuck their finger-sensors on my hoof with tape.”

“Don't be too smug,” he said. “And keep your voice down. You never know who might be listening.”

“Pfft, so what if they are? They have nothing.”

“Sit down.” He patted the couch next to him. “Close.”

Clémence obliged him, settling into the couch and putting her body right up against his.

“This might be like a game for you,” he whispered, “but they're smarter than they let on. Police work is a lot like hitting a hornet's nest—you keep whacking it to see what happens, and sooner or later you break it open and get to the honey.”

“Hornets do not make honey.”

“Really? I thought—well, never mind. Now's not the time to be smug. They've probably got bugs in our apartments, and a tracker on my car.”

“Bugs? Like fleas?”

“Little microphones. Really tiny, so you can't see them.”

“Oh!” She grinned. “I saw that on TV; it was hidden in the telephone. If you turned on the shower, it confused it, because the noise of the water covered up the other sound.”

“They're better than that, these days. Hell, my cell phone is smart enough to talk back to me.”

“So what are you saying? That we have to quit? Because things were just getting fun.”

“No, but I think it's time to fold Dom into it. He’s got more resources that just you and I, and he can make sure we've got a safe house.”

“I like this building. I do not want to have to go to another place. There is a gelato stand right outside.”

“Dom can arrange things, maybe get some new tenants in the building. Ones that aren't going to wonder if people show up in the middle of the night, and that won't let the cops in.”

“So call him.”

“But there's no backing out. Remember what I said before about it being forever.”

She leaned up close, her lips practically on his ear. “I want it to be forever.”

“Give me one reason why I shouldn't put you down right now.”


Dominick Tomasullo's finger tensed on the trigger. Marcus had disrespected him by going off the reservation, and to come back begging for mercy could give anybody ideas.

But he wasn't a stupid man, and sometimes his moral code got a little bit bent in the name of expediency.

He didn't need Marcus to tell him that he and the unicorn were a package deal; that was something that he had figured out in the middle of Marcus's rambling explanation of what they were doing—behind his back, no less.

“You should have said something, Marc.”

“Like what? That I was friends with a unicorn who made a gun disappear by magic, never to be seen again?”

“Yeah, like that.” Dom slid the gun back in its holster. “I ain't a mook, Marc. I'm from Missouri, and you know what that means.”

“Yeah. Show me.” Marcus put his hands in his pockets to hide the trembling. “What am I gonna show you? Nothing? Guns that are gone? Hell, I can't even show you my Milan. It had a bug infestation, and she made it go away.” That had been a little much for her, especially all at once. The front bumper had stayed behind, and it had taken her almost a day to recover before she was able to vanish that, too. They both agreed to never try that again, but it had been a worthwhile experiment.

“You and her and an empty room,” Dom said. “Like in a Sherlock Holmes mystery. One of my men, he gives you a package. Make it vanish completely. I don't want to know how, I don't want to see how, got it? But we're going to check afterwards and make sure it's gone.”

“Yeah, I can do that. When?”

“How about now? I've got the just the place. You and me will go for a little ride. My men'll pick up your girlfriend.”

“She's not my girlfriend. Just an acquaintance.”

“Sure.” His mouth twisted in a mockery of a smile. “Might want to call her and let her know they’re coming. You've probably got some kind of code word or something. Clever guys like you usually do, and I'd hate to have my men 'vanish' before they can give her a ride, you know? You'd hate it, too, because you'd also vanish. Am I being clear?”

“Perfectly.” Marcus picked up his cell phone and dialed.

Marcus had never before visited the DiFiore Construction Company lot, and never again would be plenty soon enough. It was just past LaGuardia airport, and also in rather convenient proximity to Rikers Island—although if things didn't go as planned, the least of his worries would be spending the rest of his life on Rikers Island. More likely, he'd be watching the boats in Powell Cove from below.

Ernest and Louis were already there, and Marcus gave them a half-hearted wave as he was led into the building and then down into the basement. It was, he thought, about the perfect place to film a horror movie, filled as it was with all sorts of cast-offs from the legitimate side of the business.

Down at the end of one of the rows was a heavy door that looked like it opened to a secret bunker—which was appropriate enough, since it surely did.

“So this is it, huh?”

Dom nodded. “You say she can make a gun vanish. Anything up to a car.”

“Car's a lot of work.”

“Not like I'm gonna be able to get one in here, anyway.” Dom waved an arm around. “Too much stuff in the way. Ought to clean this place out, but I like all the stuff. Gives it a sense of history.”

“Plus it would take an evidence team forever to go through all of it.”

“Yeah, it would. And all the while my attorneys would be filing notices to cease and desist, because it's vital equipment to keep the business operating.” He chuckled. “I can probably find something on these shelves that will fit the bill that I can live without. And that you can't use for anything clever.”

“What if she's not home?”

“Well, I guess that's too bad for you, isn't it?” Dom crossed his arms. “Thing is, Marc, I want to believe. She can solve a lot of problems, and if she is what she says she is, you've got it made. You know that. But I can't help but think of all those charlatans that can 'heal' someone by bopping them on the forehead, you know? I want there to be a miracle, but for all I know you're playing the odds. Maybe taking the guns apart and flushing the pieces down the toilet, or pitching them off a bridge into the East River.

“I don't give a rat’s ass if you're scamming some lowlife on the street that just whacked his girlfriend. But I do care that I'll be hearing rumors that I authorized it, and since you're one of mine, I'm gonna rein you in before that happens. And I guess this is your last chance to tell me it is a scam, and beg for mercy, and then maybe the two of us can sit down and have a nice drink together and chuckle at all the poor fuckwits on the street that paid you money to toss their gun over a bridge.”

Marcus nodded. He could say that. He could have said it before, even. But Dom knew that the police had brought him in, and they wouldn't have done that if they didn't think they had something, and they wouldn't have let him go if they'd found that something.

When Clémence produced, all his problems would be solved. If not. . . .

It took her a half hour to arrive.

Her head was down until she saw him, and then she got a bit of lilt back in her step, but she didn't gallop away from her escort. She did nuzzle him on the cheek when they were close.

“I was so worried,” she whispered in his ear.

“It's all going to be okay. We've just got to show Dom what you can do.”

Clémence's eyes darted around the cluttered basement. “I cannot possibly—not for years. There is far too much.”

“Not everything,” Dom said. “One thing, that I choose. How long does it take?”

“Two minutes,” Marcus said.

“I'll give you five. I'm feeling generous. Ernie, that busted up injector pump on the shelf . . . no, on the bottom shelf. Grab that. That too big?”

Clémence shook her head.

“Weighs about 20 pounds. That too big for your miracle?”

“It's fine.”

“If any of them faith healers had been the real thing, they coulda healed Stephen Hawking or something. Showed the world that they're the real deal, you know? That something that a unicorn can do?”

“I do not know. I would have to see him.” Clémence glanced around uncertainty. “Do you want me to make it disappear right now?”

“I don't want to know how you do it,” Dom said. “Marc, when the door closes behind you, you've got five minutes, understand?”


“Good. Ernie, the door?”

Ernie nodded and pulled it open.

Marcus had been expecting some sort of an office, maybe, or a bunker of some sort. Instead, it was just an empty room with old stone walls, the mortar flaking off. A small pool of stagnant water sat next to the drain; obviously the floor had settled over time.

A single flyblown lightbulb hung from the ceiling, weakly illuminating the room once Ernie flipped the switch.

“Not so sure of your miracle now, are you?”

Rather than answer, Marcus boldly strode into the room, and Clémence followed.

“I do not like this place,” Clémence said after the door had closed behind them.

“Neither do I.” Marcus leaned his back up against the door, figuring that it might be a little bit warmer than the cold stone walls that surrounded them. “Are you okay?”

“I—yes. A little bit nervous; I did not like riding in the back of the car with Dom's men. The bulky one—”


“—he kept looking at me like a wolf judging its prey. If you had not called me to warn me they were coming . . . I think he would have hurt me, even if I had made his gun disappear.”

“He might have. He used to be a prize fighter.”

“I wish I had a gun.” She giggled. “How would I carry it, though?”

“I'm sure that if you ask, they'll let you have one. If you don't fuck this up.”

“There's no need to be vulgar about my talent.” Clémence tilted her head towards the puddle on the floor. “Right there. Put it down right there. If I do it right, I might be able to make the water disappear, too. It would make it smell a bit nicer in here. Plus Mom always says that the secret to getting ahead in life is in presentation. I think that they might still think that we hid it somehow, maybe pulled out a loose rock and put it behind.”

“They'll check.”

“But if the water is gone, they will see that right away, and the concrete will be dry.” She waited until he'd stepped a little ways back, and then flared her horn. The injector pump and the water promptly vanished.

“What do you think he will do next?”

“I don't know,” Marcus admitted. “I think he'll take us out of the basement for a little bit, until he's satisfied that it really is gone. He might make you do it again, with him watching, or maybe one of his men.”

“I should have taken Vincent's gun.”

“Maybe when we get out of this room. If he sees it with his own eyes . . . will that hurt Vincent?”

“It might,” she said. “Especially if it is in his hand. I am not sure.”

“Let's save that for later, then. If we have to. . . .”


“But I think he's going to go for it. Or else we'll both be swimming with the fishes.”

“I have not been swimming in quite some time. It is a little bit chilly for swimming.”

“I think the cold will be the least of your worries.” Marcus drew his finger across his throat. “Unless unicorns are bulletproof.”

“I do not think I am.” She moved in close to him. “I will not let them hurt you, I promise. I will take away Vincent's gun. I should have already.”

“I don't want that to be necessary. Let's wait until we see what Dom decides, okay. But keep your ears open, no matter what. As long as we're in this place.”

“I will.”

The latches on the door sounded like thunder. Everybody in the basement proper had their eyes peeled on the room, except for Vincent. He was watching them with his unsettling dark eyes.

“It's gone,” Dom said.

“So's the puddle on the floor.” Ernie walked into the room and put his hand down where the stagnant water had been. “Almost bone dry. Concrete's got a bit of dampness to it, 'cause we're so close to the river, but it's not any wetter by the drain than anywhere else.”

“So do you believe now?”

Dom frowned. “I never said that I didn't.”

“Make sure that Ernie and Louie check the walls real good for loose stones or anything like that,” VInnie suggested.

Dom nodded to them, then turned back to Marcus and Clémence. “If my father could see this . . . a unicorn. I don't suppose you've got any dragon friends? Or phoenixes? I could branch off into arson, . . . While the two of them look, let's come up to my office and talk, okay? You, too, Vinnie.”

No amount of searching by Ernie and Louie found the bulldozer's injector pump.

Six Months Later

Marcus and Clémence still lived in their apartments on Mulberry Street, and Clémence still visited the gelato stand whenever she wanted to.

All the other tenants of the apartment building had been encouraged to move out and had been replaced with people who were loyal to Dominick. Once or twice a night, her telephone would ring twice, then twice more: that was the signal that she should be expecting a package that needed to disappear.

Mostly, she disappeared things from her apartment. It was more convenient that way, and invisible to prying eyes. A small flash of light that could easily have been something on the television, and then it was gone forever, beyond the reach of search warrants and evidence technicians.

She wasn’t told what was in the packages.

Things like food and rent were no longer a concern, nor was a prying landlord who was worried about what hooves might be doing to the floor of his apartment.

She should have been happy. She didn't have to scramble around on Craigslist looking for work. And she still had most of her freedom; Dom didn't dare restrict her to her apartment. She only had to be available at night, and if she told him beforehand that she was going to be staying late at a party, he let her.

But it galled her that she had to ask.

Marcus was growing more distant, too. She'd suggested once again that they could share an apartment, but he hadn't shown any interest in that and she let the matter slide. Maybe he was worried about his floors.

Dom had given him a car to replace the Milan. It was much nicer, but it didn't feel the same to be riding in the back of it.

“You should have asked him for a pickup truck,” she told him. “I could ride in the back and have the wind in my mane and the smell of the city in my nose.”

“He'd give you a truck if you asked,” Marcus said. “Or maybe a Tesla; they practically drive themselves.”

“I do not want a car to drive. I want to ride around with you.” That lie he'd told the police officers was actually true. “I miss when we used to be together all the time. I miss talking in your Milan out behind seven elevens and in dark alleyways.”

“Not me. Just the thought of somebody I don't know coming up with a gun that he wants to get rid of, or whatever—and any one of them might think he was going to mug me or carjack me. Now nobody would dare to do it.”

“That was the fun.” Clémence sighed. “Never knowing from one moment to the next . . . it was thrilling. I miss that.”

“If you want risk, try a hot dog from one of the carts,” Marcus suggested. “You never know what might be in one of those.”

“Bah.” Clémence flopped down on the floor. “At least sometimes I get to go to the gun club and shoot my shotgun. That is fun, even if it hurts my ears. They have little clay dics that they call pigeons and they fling them up in the air and I can shoot them apart while they fly. Have you ever tried that?”

“I prefer a pistol. Easy to keep hidden.”

“Like Dirty Harry.” Clémence giggled. “'Do you feel lucky, punk?' Maybe I should see if Dom can get a holster I can strap to my foreleg.”

“Yeah, yeah. Outta to get you a cowboy hat.”

“Should I?”


She nodded.

“There's a western store on Broadway and Walker.”

“I love this city.” Clémence sighed. “I will go there tomorrow. Maybe they have other cowboy wear too. Have you ever worn chaps?”

“I'm really not into that kind of thing.”

“You should try it. All the cowboys wear them. You should come with me.”

“I'm going to the ballgame tomorrow. Probably won't be back until late. After they close. Me and some of the guys are going to go to a bar after.”


Marcus nodded.

“Maybe I will go to the park and trot around the race track.” She gathered her legs under herself and stood back up. “I—have you had dinner?”

“Yeah, why?”

“I thought . . . maybe not tomorrow, because you have your baseball game to watch, but what about Friday? Would you like to go to Umberto's? Or we could go to the Tiny Shanghai, if you wanted Chinese food.”

“I dunno. I was going to see if Eddie wanted to go to New York Dolls. What's the fun of having money if you can't spend it?”

“Life is about more than money.” Clémence swished her tail. “Very well, if you change your mind, I would like to treat you to dinner.”

Rain changed the city for the better, generally. It washed the dirt off the streets and she had the sidewalks more to herself, and the park was almost empty, especially if it was a heavy rain. She could stand under the overarching canopy of trees and listen to the rain drumming against the leaves and it helped quiet the sounds of the city.

She wondered if the ocean sounded like that.

At night, it made the roads into false mirrors that reflected the lights of the city back and with her window open just a crack the cool and refreshing breeze blew into her apartment, occasionally bringing little spumes of water with it.

She was on the couch, a blanket over her back. The television was on, but she'd turned the sound off so that she could listen to the rain. Her attention was focused on her mane; the humidity made it frizz up and she was trying unsuccessfully to brush it flat again when the phone rang.

Clémence glanced up at it in interest. After the second ring, it stopped, and then a moment later it rang twice more.

That was the signal, so she put the hairbrush down and got off the couch.

She hadn't told Dom or Marcus or anyone but she'd gotten a sense for what was in the packages. She could feel if it was a gun or a knife or a bunch of papers, both by how they felt as she disappeared them and later by who’d brought them to her. Dom only trusted a few of his men with her, and they all had different specialities.

This time it was Vinnie who eventually knocked on her door; to her surprise, he didn't have anything with him.

“Gotta take a little ride,” he told her. “Something that won't go up the stairs all that easy, if you think you can handle it.”

“Is it big?”

“Just a rug, like the ones you've got on your floor.”

Clémence nodded. It didn't take a genius to figure out that there was something in the rug, because who would want to disappear a rug?

Or else it was a trap.

“Where are we going?”

“Just down the road a piece,” Vinnie said. “Might want to put on a raincoat, if you've got one. It's really coming down.”

“I don't mind getting wet.”

She hesitated right at the door. “Can—I think I should tell Marcus where I'm going. So he doesn't worry.”

“He doesn't—” Vinnie licked his lips. “Sure. Yeah. Tell him. We're going to Port Morris.”

Even after all this time in New York, Clémence trusted the stairs more than the superannuated elevator in the building. She and Vinnie went down one floor, then across to Marcus's apartment.

She knocked on the door, but he didn't answer.

“Boyfriend didn't give you a key?” Vinnie chuckled.

Clémence shook her head.

“Stand back, I can get it open. Shitty locks in these apartments.” He reached into his pants and pulled out a small cloth roll. “Don't tell anybody, okay? Lockpicks are illegal.”

It only took a moment for him to get the door open. The apartment was filled with Marcus's scent and the smell of garlic and also a bit of perfume on top of that. Her eye was immediately drawn to a lacy red bra draped across the back of the couch.

“Can you write him a note, or do you want me to?”

She gritted her teeth. “I can do it.” He had a dry-erase board on the refrigerator, which was a good place to leave a note. “Port Morris, right?”


She rode in the back of Vinnie's Land Rover. They drove out of Little Italy and paralleled Central Park before cutting over to First Avenue and the Willis Avenue Bridge. Then before they merged with I-87, he turned down Bruckner Boulevard and followed it to an industrial areas.

The rain couldn't make it look any prettier; the buildings were ugly and old and there were tall fences made of cement blocks and corrugated iron preventing anyone from seeing what went on behind them.

They had to wait for a filthy locomotive towing a string of beat-up gondolas to pass, and then Vinnie made a couple more turns until they found themselves in front of a chain link fence.

He had a key or he used his lockpicks; she didn't really notice which. She was remembering what Marcus had said about going swimming with the fishes and how easy it would be for Vinnie to erase her note, if he wanted to.

And she wondered if she cared. Marcus had gotten more and more distant; would he even notice if she was gone? Would he miss the hoofsteps on the floor above his apartment?

Was this what she wanted?

The lot was full of metal containers, stacked two and three high. All of them were rusty, and some of them were smashed. It was hard to imagine how that could have happened; they certainly looked sturdy.

“You still can't make a car disappear, can you?”

“No. Cars are too big. It takes a couple of days. And I was really tired after I tried.”

“I had to ask.” Vinnie drove through the maze of containers until he finally located an old Lincoln Town Car parked right up against one. She felt a shiver of excitement seeing it, wondering if that was how Marcus's Milan had looked when it was backed up to a dumpster.

He shut off the lights and for a moment, the car vanished completely into the darkness, all but a tiny glint off its chrome.

“Wish we'd gotten here earlier. Well, the rug's in the trunk. Can you do your thing from here?”

“If I can't see what I'm trying to disappear. . . .”

“Yeah, that makes sense.” Vinnie opened his door. “Alright, hang on a second, I'll get yours.” He glanced down the darkened tunnel between the containers. “Shoulda parked the other way. Just in case.”

Her heart started beating faster. “Could it be a trap?”

“Can't ever be too careful.” He stood for a moment, his hand on the edge of his door, before he shook his head and moved to the back, opening the door for her.

Getting out of a car wasn't as easy as getting in, and the rain-slicked concrete didn't help.

Vinnie had the remote for the Town Car. Once they were around the back he pulled it out of his pocket and pushed a button, and with an authoritative click, the trunk opened up.

The inside of the trunk was lined in thick black plastic, with the promised rolled-up rug sitting on top. Even if the smell hadn't given it away, she could see a dark stain that wasn’t a shadow from the trunk lights.

“Close your eyes,” Clémence cautioned. “This is going to be bright.”

He nodded, and turned his back to her.

It only took a moment for her to work her magic.

“You weren't kidding,” Vinnie remarked. “I hope anyone who saw it thinks it was lightning.”

“I could—” she bit her lip nervously. “I could make the plastic go away, too. That might be best.”

“Easier than burning it,” Vinnie agreed. “You don't have to recharge or anything like that?”

“No, not for something that simple.”

This time the flash was much smaller.

The two of them were silent as they drove back to Clémence's apartment. He was on edge, no doubt considering the implications of making bodies just disappear like that. Completely untraceable. Even if the cadaver dogs got a hit off the trunk—and they might—there wouldn't be anything else. Could she do that with a living body? Vanish it as if it never was?

Where, exactly, did it go? She wondered that sometimes. Her head was down; she didn't feel the need to watch the buildings go by. The tires swished across the pavement, their sound soporific. The radio was just on, not quite loud enough for her to identify the songs that were playing.

Vinnie dropped her off in front of her apartment and opened the door for her, extending a hand to steady her as she stepped to the pavement. She'd watched a documentary about the Queen of England, and it reminded her of the steadying hands of the Queen's assistants, and she wondered if it was right to thank him or if it was better to remain silent.

She brushed her muzzle against his cheek and then went up the stairs.

Clémence paused a floor down. There was a light under Marcus's door, but she didn't knock. She closed the hallway door quietly, like a thief, and went one more floor up.

If she was careful, she could move across her rugs without being too loud.

The couch wasn't a terribly comfortable place to sleep, but it was good enough. Her blanket was still scrunched up on the couch, and the armrest made a serviceable pillow.

For a little while, the rain turned into a thunderstorm, and then it tapered off again. She could occasionally hear doors opening and closing in the apartment building, and a bit of cigarette smoke drifted through her open window from somebody smoking on a balcony.

She thought about the lacy red bra that had been draped over Marcus's couch and she thought about her message on his whiteboard. Had he even seen it? Was it still there? Or had he wiped it off without thinking?

Human legends said that unicorns only appeared to the pure, although that obviously wasn't true at all. Or was it? Could he no longer see her?

That didn't seem likely, but she wondered. Maybe tomorrow morning he would come to her apartment, maybe he would be worried enough to check on her, maybe he would use the key she'd given him, and maybe he wouldn't be able to see her anymore.

Would the couch look unoccupied? Or would he see a depression in it?

Would she care?

Vinnie took her out to Port Morris again. Another plastic-lined trunk, another rug. Marcus didn't come by her apartment. She hasn't seen him for a week.

She could vanish the entire back half of a car, and that was better. That gave nothing for the cadaver dogs to identify, and the front half could go in a crusher easily enough. The first time, Vinnie burned his hand on the sundered steel and without thinking, she touched her horn to it, healing the wound.

New York City was not a good place for a unicorn to live.

“Marcus, we need to talk.”

“Now's not a good time.” The door was open a crack, restrained by a golden chain. Clémence could smell garlic and stale cigarettes and perfume and sex.

“Let me in, Marcus.”

“Just . . .” His eyes darted back into his apartment, then back to her face. “I'm . . . let me get dressed, okay? I'll meet you up at your apartment, how about that?”

“No. Stand back.” That was all the warning she gave, before a forehoof shot out and smashed the door open, nearly cracking him in the skull as it slammed into the cheap wallboard.

She stormed by him, pausing on the rug in the center of his living room that was a near match to the one she had. They'd gone to IKEA to get it, and it had some exotic name. Hampen or something like that.

“I should have know that you would have no loyalty,” she said, spinning to face him. “When you were so eager to go behind Dom's back. You're lucky he did not just kill you.”

“You've been talking to Vinnie,” Marcus said. He pushed the splintered remains of his door back shut, and moved towards the couch. “He wasn't—he knew, you've got a useful skill, you know.”

“Yeah.” Her voice was bitter. “And what has it got me? I thought that we were a team, that maybe—”

“It wasn't going to be like that. I couldn't, you know.”

She ignored him. “I thought about that, and I do not think it would have worked, but we could have tried. We could have had that.

But—remember when I left a note on your whiteboard? You read that, did you not?”

“Yes,” he grudgingly admitted.


“I should’ve gone to your apartment, made sure you were safe. I'm sorry. I was, I'd—“

“Was she was worth it? How long would it have taken to write a little note yourself and slipped it under my door?”

“I'm sorry, I wasn't thinking straight.”

She lowered her head, tilting her horn towards his chest. “It did not have to end like this.”

His hand darted towards the end table, and she made no move to stop him as he pulled the Sig out of the drawer and brought it up. “I will shoot you.”

“You cannot disappear me, and how far are you going to get before somebody wonders where I have gone?” She stormed across the rug, moving in on him. “You are trapped. You have money and Dom's respect and a new car and your ladies of the night but what good do they do you now? Go ahead, pull the trigger and find out.”

His finger tensed but she was faster, and just like that he was gone.

She could have gone to the bedroom but she was hollow inside and didn't want to consider what she might do there, so instead she went back upstairs to her own apartment and sat on the couch and watched the pigeons clustering on the fire escape railing.

It was doubtful that Dom would miss Marcus, but if he asked, she'd tell him what happened.

She didn't think he'd mind.
« Prev   12   Next »
#1 ·

That was a really, really odd story.
#2 ·
· · >>This is a game I lost
It's a little disconnected from the prompt...
#3 ·
· · >>Kai_Creech >>Admiral_Biscuit
Next Generation of mafia, I guess? Next Generation Unicorn? Not sure where you're getting the disconnect. Haven't read all of the stories, but for the most part they all seem to have a connection to the prompt in some way or shape or form.

That said, gotta agree with Hap. This was WEIRRIRIRIIDID.

It's fun, and requires you to NOT think and NOT question things, which is neato. Why is there a unicorn, why is no one curious about this. You've taken the magical and wonderful and made its biggest concern whether or not the landlord will be mad about the scuffed floors. And I like that. It's fun, to NOT question things and just accept a little weirdness.

The interactions between characters were lovely, and certainly there's the strength in this story. Hell hath no wrath like a woman uniscorned. Or an associated bad pun. It was a bit... I don't know, I found myself thinking Rozencrantz and Guildenstern, but with a little bit of Pulp Fiction stooges. It was cute, and silly, and I'll confess that I forgot entirely about the body stashed behind the couch. In a good way!

I felt a little lost, at the end. I wish she hadn't done it. Generations are supposed to get better, to improve. This isn't the days of when Men were Men and Women Goddesses.

More to come, maybe. Again.
#4 ·
· · >>This is a game I lost
>>This is a game I lost
Yes, but the new generation isn't really the focus of the story. It's not the next generation of crime; its just one criminal with a gimmick. SHe's not responding to or challenging either the previous generation or the next one.
#5 · 2
I think we'll have to disagree. The focus is on the unicron and Marco Polo, and their interactions lead to Clem's Next Gen Crime Shenanibaloo. Marcus is part of the old generation and she Fixes, just as her talent for vanishing things is the next generation of problem solving. The old and new do interact, it's right there. AND, there's the layer of unicromom, and how she's the successful older generation that the new generation is struggling to live up to, prove itself against, and so on.

I don't think anyone would care about a macro-view of next generation crime. The author is constrained by the medium, and all the author has is a max of 12k words to make us care about their characters. I'm not going to give a damn about some dry encyclopedia entry about unicron majicks being used in crime as a next generation type deal. But I AM going to care about one unicorn's story within that framework.
#6 ·
· · >>Admiral_Biscuit
I think I figured it out. This needs to be a Netflix Original Series.

It's a coming of age story, but it's also a story about the loss of innocence. In the beginning, they wonder about the old myth of a unicorn only being visible to the pure of heart. And in the end, Clémence loses sight of what and who she is.

That said, I don't see what it has to do with the prompt. Any story, ever, will be about characters who probably had parents, and thus could ostensibly fall under the broadest interpretation of "the next generation."
#7 · 6
· · >>Admiral_Biscuit
It is very rare that an original fiction story in the Writeoff (or any story, for that matter) grips me hard enough that I have to keep reading. This is one.

Good show, author. A few rough edges, near the beginning in particular, but soon the story had enough momentum to ride over those bumps without pause.

Edit: Knowing as little as I do about organized crime and Italian-Americans, I have only a vague sense that this story was inspired by television, detective stories, and the like. Aside from a few details like gnocchi and the stereotypically Italian names, there aren't many details to really paint this story as authentically as I think it deserves. If you come back to this, author, try to fill in those little details. They can do so much to capture the reader and engross them in your work.
#8 · 4
· · >>Admiral_Biscuit
I enjoyed this! If it was weird as some others have said, then I suppose I connect with the weird ones, somehow, but I 'got' this story almost from the start. I was thrown off a bit at first with an "Oh no, a unicorn..." but you quickly turned this into something much more unique. This was by far the shortest long story I've read so far in this contest, meaning that I was engaged all the way through to the point where it flew by.

The sharp turn the story (and Clémence) took when Marcus showed up at 2am that first time threw me off, but eventually I realized that Clémence – at least in my interpretation – is a disaffected and ambivalent youth, and that informs everything that came before and after. Her mother is in the spotlight, becoming more and more successful, while Clémence remains in New York: bored, watching the rain fall, watching people sitting in restaurants, feeling empty especially at the end, and only really coming alive when she's doing something dangerous or rebellious. And for me, part of what played into that was the mythical dynamic hinted at many times between unicorns and humans. She showed affection to the men she was with when performing her magic trick for them, even the man she'd felt initially threatened by. Her psychology seemed to be shaped by that of the men she connected with.

Clémence could have been human in this story, but that would have made her magic 'special' and almost cliché. Instead, her being a unicorn gave her a talent that no one cared about except that it could be used as a tool for them.

In the end "she was hollow inside" is a good description of her condition. I could almost feel sorry for her if she had felt any measure of remorse at the end...

This was sad and maybe a little strange, but it works. Excellent story.

Edit: Can't help thinking that Clémence is a little white lie, meaning merciful. You might even stretch that to mean generous. Even if the name doesn't suit her actions. Just a thought.
#9 · 3
· · >>Bad Horse
New York City was not a good place for a unicorn to live.

This was a great opening line which immediately put me on board with the story. This is one of those opening lines which is simple but hooks the reader, because we have gotten a statement and want to see where it is going. Why is New York City bad for unicorns? Why does this matter?

Also, given I once wrote a story about the Plight of the Unicorn American, this hits me in all the right places.

No bias though. Clearly. :trixieshiftright:

This story made me care about Clémence, our unicorn protagonist who, despite her nature as a magical forest creature, feels very real and relatable. We learn a lot of little things about her that build her up into a real person, and see her boredom, her likes and dislikes, and her insecurities and self-consciousness. I really wanted things to turn out well for her – and as the story went on, I felt increasingly bad for her, as I could see that she was walking down one of life’s dark alleyways. I wanted to tell her to turn back, but I was powerless to stop her, and had to keep reading to find out how things turned out. The juxtaposition of what Clémence should be and what the world she was inhabiting in New York City was very powerful, and it was interesting to see just how much trouble she caused by stepping outside of what she was “supposed to be”.

The idea of someone who is stereotyped as symbol of purity using their talents for ill, and getting sucked into it for the excitement, because it makes her feel useful, and because she liked someone (or at least, liked the idea of them)… this story really pulled me. I felt bad for Clémence, as it was obvious that she really, really shouldn’t have been doing what she was doing, and was ultimately doing it for the thrill and for someone she cared about more than she should have. Her motivations weren’t good, but they were all understandable. I cared about her, even as she stopped caring about the things that matter most.

This was a great story, and I wanted to keep reading all the way through to the end. I really got into this, and above all of the other stories in the competition, I both felt compelled to read this through to the end, and I really cared about what happened to our protagonist.

If I had a complaint, it would be that the ending was a bit abrupt; it could have used a little more breathing space in showing the connection between the two main characters fraying, as well as Clemente’s feelings seeming to drift towards Vincent. The “six months later” time skip also felt rough. I think there were other ways of communicating that which would have felt better.

I loved this story. Well done.
#10 · 6
· · >>Bad Horse
The Fixer was our consensus choice for #1. There wasn’t even much debate involved, aside from a few minutes to suggest a few critiques and things that could’ve been done better. For me, I felt the rapid change in attitude Clemence underwent in the story’s final, pivotal scene occurred too rapidly. So too did Marcus’s turn away from her -- after many thousands of words spent showing them growing closer together, and Clemence’s growth from quiet shut-in to an experienced mob fixer, barely any time was spent explaining how they fell apart. I’ve been in this situation before with my stories, when I realize I’m suddenly reaching the word limit but I still have lots of story left to tell. Invariably, the plot gets rushed, and the narrative arc gets compressed. I also had some qualms about how authentically the New York Italian-American scene was being presented, but with no particular knowledge of it myself, I can only assume all these stereotypes are accurate.

But those are minor complaints. The world envisioned by The Fixer was imaginative and enthralling. As I said in my short comment, this is one of the only stories in the WriteOff that I’ve been driven to keep reading, not out of obligation but because I need to know how it ends. For that alone, not to mention the great characterization and creativity on display, The Fixer was my easy winner.
#11 · 2
· · >>Bad Horse
Man, the thing I hate the most about anonymous contests is that I can't reply to comments until the very end. :P

>>This is a game I lost
It's fun, and requires you to NOT think and NOT question things, which is neato. Why is there a unicorn, why is no one curious about this. You've taken the magical and wonderful and made its biggest concern whether or not the landlord will be mad about the scuffed floors. And I like that. It's fun, to NOT question things and just accept a little weirdness.

This is something that I really worked on way back when, trying to drill down and explain all the logic of every little thing in first contact stories and whatnot. It was only after realizing that I'd used nearly every reasonable explanation that I came to understand that sometimes it's better when stories leave some of that stuff behind. Why is there a unicorn in New York City? Why not. Why does nobody care? Because it's New York City. That's enough of a reason, I thought.

The interactions between characters were lovely, and certainly there's the strength in this story. Hell hath no wrath like a woman uniscorned. Or an associated bad pun. It was a bit... I don't know, I found myself thinking Rozencrantz and Guildenstern, but with a little bit of Pulp Fiction stooges. It was cute, and silly, and I'll confess that I forgot entirely about the body stashed behind the couch. In a good way!

Uniscorned, man I like that.

If I have one strength in writing, I like to think it's characters and dialogue.

I guess that's two strengths.

(...and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope)

I think I figured it out. This needs to be a Netflix Original Series.

I'm strongly considering expanding this. There's a lot that would have happened inside that 'Six Months Later' marker, which unfortunately the word count of the contest didn't really permit.

That said, I don't see what it has to do with the prompt. Any story, ever, will be about characters who probably had parents, and thus could ostensibly fall under the broadest interpretation of "the next generation."

Now I have a sudden urge to write a story with characters who literally have no parents in any sense of the word. But I'll be damned if I can think of anything workable; even the first single-cell organism had 'parents' in the form of amino acids floating in the primordial goop or somesuch.

>>Cold in Gardez
It is very rare that an original fiction story in the Writeoff (or any story, for that matter) grips me hard enough that I have to keep reading. This is one.


Edit: Knowing as little as I do about organized crime and Italian-Americans, I have only a vague sense that this story was inspired by television, detective stories, and the like. Aside from a few details like gnocchi and the stereotypically Italian names, there aren't many details to really paint this story as authentically as I think it deserves. If you come back to this, author, try to fill in those little details. They can do so much to capture the reader and engross them in your work.

I'm no expert in organized crime; most of what I know about it comes from movies and books. I wanted to try and avoid any obvious stereotypes while also hinting at them . . . I can't remember if I explicitly stated it in the story, but she's living in Little Italy and Umberto's is a famous Mob hangout. If/when I do expand this, I'll do a lot more research to fill in those blanks, though, and get the right balance.

I enjoyed this! If it was weird as some others have said, then I suppose I connect with the weird ones, somehow, but I 'got' this story almost from the start. I was thrown off a bit at first with an "Oh no, a unicorn..." but you quickly turned this into something much more unique. This was by far the shortest long story I've read so far in this contest, meaning that I was engaged all the way through to the point where it flew by.


The sharp turn the story (and Clémence) took when Marcus showed up at 2am that first time threw me off, but eventually I realized that Clémence – at least in my interpretation – is a disaffected and ambivalent youth, and that informs everything that came before and after. Her mother is in the spotlight, becoming more and more successful, while Clémence remains in New York: bored, watching the rain fall, watching people sitting in restaurants, feeling empty especially at the end, and only really coming alive when she's doing something dangerous or rebellious. And for me, part of what played into that was the mythical dynamic hinted at many times between unicorns and humans. She showed affection to the men she was with when performing her magic trick for them, even the man she'd felt initially threatened by. Her psychology seemed to be shaped by that of the men she connected with.

That's a pretty accurate interpretation, actually. She's bored; things like looking at America's oldest cheese shop don't fill all the time, and she wants to do something useful that plays to her skillset. I don't think she realizes right at the beginning what the implications of her actions will ultimately be, but once she starts going down one path it's easier to keep going down that path--especially since everything seems to be working out on that path--rather than step back and examine where she was going.

While I don't have any ties to anything like this, there was one point when I was younger and had some relationship issues (which is probably the most delicate way to put it) that one of my friends straight up asked me something like this: "At what point if any did you stop to think how deep the hole you were digging was?" The answer was obviously that I never stopped to think at any of the points where I clearly should have.

This was sad and maybe a little strange, but it works. Excellent story.

:heart: (damn this site for not having the familiar pony emoticons)

Edit: Can't help thinking that Clémence is a little white lie, meaning merciful. You might even stretch that to mean generous. Even if the name doesn't suit her actions. Just a thought.

I used that name with full knowledge.
#12 ·
>>Admiral_Biscuit This is a great story, biscuit, and I agree with everything >>TitaniumDragon and >>Cold in Gardez said.