“Why is it,” I said to no one in particular, “why is it that these things only happen to me when I try to do the right thing? I mean, I can be a violent, self-serving asshole as much as I want and get away with it. But when I stick my neck out to help someone, this sort of nonsense happens.”
“I take it the news from the Conclave is not entirely pleasant,” Selene said dryly.
No shit, Snowflake said in the back of my head. Do they have any other kind?
“It isn’t sounding good,” I said. “Apparently I killed a Conclave member in Russia last year.”
Selene cleared her throat. “Ah. Do you mean a clan mage, or an actual Conclave member?”
“Oh. That might be a problem. Um. If you don’t mind, how did you even manage that?”
I shrugged. “Beats me. I was kind of tripping on the Wild Hunt at the time. Don’t even remember doing it. Which, you know, you’d think that being out of your mind on that kind of magic while trying to save the world would get you some amnesty, but apparently now that they’ve finally managed to replace her they want to have a long conversation about the whole thing.”
Something tells me this is the sort of conversation that ends with at least one person bleeding.
“I’m hoping this isn’t going to get that ugly,” I said. “Won’t find out until next week. They actually gave me advance notice this time around.”
“You do have the meeting with the mayor in about an hour, though,” Selene reminded me.
“I know. I’m heading that direction now. I just felt a need to comment on this, because it’s so freaking ridiculous.” I shook my head and tossed the letter aside. As usual, it had just randomly appeared on my desk while I was out of the room. That trick had gotten old a long time ago. “You coming, Snowflake?”
A political meeting where even if it does turn into a fight it won’t be exciting at all? Pass. I think I’ll go hunting instead, maybe kill some squirrels.
Suit yourself, I sent back, standing and walking out of my office. She butted her head against my thigh as I walked past, but didn’t reply otherwise.
Downstairs, there was a quiet buzz of activity in the main room. I’d stopped thinking of it as the throne room a while ago; enough other stuff happened in that room to make the throne much less of the focus anymore. At the moment Tindr was sitting at a desk in the corner, on the phone with someone and looking at several notebooks and a laptop. Kyi was standing by the map table, updating the incident markers and territory boundaries to reflect the latest changes in the scene. A werewolf and a kitsune that I barely recognized were standing at the water cooler and discussing a television show.
All of them nodded respectfully as I walked briskly across the room. Outside, Kjaran already had the limo running. The paint had been redone again in the past couple of weeks since I saw it last; it was still black, with my coat of arms on one side and Aiko’s on the other, but now there was a very subtle pattern reminiscent of frost painted across it in blues and violets barely distinguishable from black. I found I liked the effect more than I would have expected to.
The car was heavily armored and had some of the best defenses money could buy, and in addition to Kjaran there was a human thug riding a very literal shotgun. It was purely for show, of course; nobody in this town was likely to be dumb enough to try and attack me now, and if they did I was perfectly able to defend myself. But as statements went, this one wasn’t bad. Particularly when he turned on “Ride of the Valkyries” on the very, very expensive stereo system we’d had installed.
I was reasonably confident that the mayor of the city had intended to put us on an equal footing by setting up the meeting in a hotel conference room. Where a meeting was could do a lot to set the tone of that meeting; putting it in a neutral location was a good sign for it being a neutral meeting. It was equally inconvenient for both of us, and it didn’t force me to either come to his space or tolerate him in mine.
Granted, the effect was a little spoiled by the fact that he’d randomly chosen a hotel that I owned. I was reasonably confident he didn’t know that, though. Tindr had arranged things through a series of shell corporations and money laundering fronts elaborate enough that I couldn’t even begin to follow it. I’d be very, very surprised if he had figured it out.
I showed up half an hour early and walked in alone. Bringing in thugs was nice for some kinds of meeting, but some didn’t do so well with that kind of message. Somehow I didn’t think that it would be the best approach to what was supposed to be a peaceful meeting with a guy I knew for a fact had no violence in his background whatsoever.
Besides, I could take him any time I wanted. John Cohen couldn’t be a threat to me on the best day he ever had and I knew it. In a way, having thugs with me to talk to someone like that would be bad for my image. Having minions made me look influential; needing them for something like this made me look like I was useless on my own.
To my surprise, he was already in the conference room when I showed up. As usual, the mayor looked very much the part of a beleaguered public servant, his ill-fitting suit rumpled and a little stained, reading something out of a file folder.
“Good morning, John,” I said, walking up to him. “You wanted to talk about something?”
“Winter,” he said, looking up from the folder. “Thanks for coming.” He juggled the folder and then shook my hand—a little gingerly, since I wasn’t about to take off my gauntlet for it, and those spikes weren’t just for show. “I was hoping we could talk about your position with the city.”
“I thought I didn’t have one,” I said, casually pulling out one of the chairs and lounging on it. I didn’t quite put my feet up on the conference table. “We settled this months ago. I don’t claim any kind of official capacity, and you don’t get in the way of my people. That setup’s been working pretty well for us so far.”
He sighed and sat down across from me. “I don’t know how much longer we’ll be able to get away with that kind of unofficial arrangement,” he said. “Politics might be catching up with us.” He sounded vaguely disgusted about it.
“I’d have thought you’d be glad about that. I mean, you are a politician.”
He shrugged. “I won’t deny being grateful that the system is kicking back into gear. As much as I appreciate what you’ve been doing, I would rather see due process and a democratic government take hold in this country again. But in this case, I find the specific things that are being done to be more than a little disturbing. I’m guessing you know about the bill that’s being discussed in the House this week?”
“What, you mean the motion to officially list werewolves as not being human, not being citizens of the United States, and not having any of the rights allowed to either group?” I snorted. “Yeah,” I said dryly. “Somehow that one stuck out in my memory. Can’t imagine why.”
He chuckled a little, although it sounded more tired than amused. “Yes, I suppose it would,” he said. “You sound remarkably nonchalant about the whole thing, all things considered.”
I shrugged. “Hardly seems worth getting worked up over. It isn’t going to pass.”
“You’re confident of that?”
“Absolutely. Enough politicians either are werewolves or are owned by werewolves that it doesn’t have a chance. I’ll be surprised if it makes it out of committee.”
He heaved what seemed to be a genuine sigh of relief. “Good,” he said. “It still sets an ugly precedent, but that’s much better than if it were actually to pass.”
“Why is it so important to you?” I asked curiously. The mayor seemed to be genuinely concerned at the thought of the bill making it into law, and I wasn’t quite sure why he would care.
“Aside from the fact that I’ve spoken with you, what, four times now and I have no reason to think you’re less of a person than I am?” He shrugged. “I guess I’m a little disturbed by anything that hints at making groups of people legally less than human. If we say that werewolves are subhuman, how long before we’re applying the same argument to blacks, or gays, or women? I mean, I know that slippery slope is a weak argument, but I think in this case there’s enough precedent to make it a legitimate concern.”
I considered him for a moment. I didn’t usually think of John as black; from my perspective, when I spent most of my time interacting with things that really weren’t human, dividing people up on the basis of race seemed a little bizarre. But now that I considered it in that light, I supposed that I could understand why he would be personally invested in this bill.
Although he probably would have been opposed to it regardless. I hadn’t interacted with the mayor that much, but from what I’d seen he was an all right sort. Not a saint, by any means, but I had a hard time picturing him condoning hate crimes against anyone, and it was hard to see this bill as anything other than open license to commit hate crimes against werewolves. But still, I liked being able to connect the intensity of his feelings on this one to a personal motivation. It made the cynical part of me happy.
“Okay,” I said. “And this is relevant to us…why, exactly?”
He raised one eyebrow. “Do you really not see this as being a relevant issue for you? Disregarding your confidence that it won’t be passed into law, don’t you think this would have some serious impacts on your life?”
“You do remember what kicked off the broadcast at the beginning of all this, I hope,” I said dryly. “I wasn’t willing to go to jail for something I didn’t do. I don’t exactly think my reaction would be better if the government were to literally pass a law saying that I’m not a person and any moron with a silver bullet could murder me in broad daylight without getting so much as a slap on the wrist. Realistically, I’d probably just walk away from the whole system at that point.”
“You think it would be that easy?”
I shrugged. “Sure. Why not? I’m really only answerable to your laws because I choose to be, John. You guys need me a lot more than I need you right now. If I were to get really pissed off tomorrow, I could leave and it would be, at worst, a mild inconvenience to me.”
“When you start talking like this,” he said after a moment, “I have the rather terrifying feeling that I’m living in a fairy tale. We’re protected by a powerful and inscrutable force. He operates by rules that we don’t understand, and if we break them or do something to annoy him we’re doomed and there’s not a thing we can do about it.” He shook his head. “The world has become a rather scary place in the last year.”
“Eh, it’s always been like this,” I said. “Only difference is now you know you’re a small fish in a big ocean. Anyway, you’re a busy guy and I’m sure you didn’t ask me here to talk philosophy. Why does this bill mean that we have to change my ‘position’ with the city?”
“Well, it isn’t the bill itself. It’s more that it indicates the bureaucracy has finally gotten its feet under itself again. That means that unofficial arrangements like we have are going to be coming under a great deal more scrutiny, and I don’t think we can really go without some kind of legitimate authority for you indefinitely.”
“Lots of other cities have people filling the same basic role I’ve been playing here,” I said. “I’ve talked to a lot of them. What are they doing about it?”
John shrugged. “Different places are taking different routes right now. Mostly they involve giving the person in question some kind of position within the police force. Or the military, in the places that are still under martial law. Regardless, there’s a clear legal authority in place.”
“So do that.”
He grimaced. “Well, that’s where it becomes a problem. See, the charges against you were never actually dismissed, so you’re still wanted for a laundry list of crimes. At this point you’re basically convicted if they could get you into the courtroom again. I can overlook it, but there’s no way I could actually appoint you to any kind of formal position.”
“Can’t you, I don’t know, pardon me or whatever?”
“For this?” He snorted. “That’s way above my pay grade. You’d have to deal with the federal government to get the charges of terrorism dismissed.” He paused. “You do realize that’s going to be a problem, right? Eventually someone will go over the head of local law enforcement and arrest you.”
I shrugged. “Of all the things in this world that scare me, that’s so far down the list that it doesn’t even register. Like I said, my status within your legal system is just not an important part of my life right now.”
“Right. Sorry, I’m just not used to people being quite so blatant about that attitude. Most of the criminals I talk to at least pretend to care. Although I guess they do have to care more than you do, so that’s probably fair enough.” He shook his head. “I’m rambling. Sorry; it’s been a long morning. Anyway, this isn’t an emergency or anything. Take some time and see if you can come up with a solution. I’ll get in touch if anything else comes up, or if things get more urgent.”