Carmen took a deep breath before knocking. She made sure her hat was on straight and her jacket looked even, then gently knocked on the door. She heard footsteps coming up to the door, along with the sound of a crying infant. The door opened and she was greeted with the sight of a woman about her age, holding a very upset baby.

“Yes? Can I help you?” the woman asked, trying to comfort her child.

“Good morning, ma’am, I’m-” The wail of the child interrupted Carmen, causing her to awkwardly smile. “I’m Carmen Ahearn of Ahearn Investigations. I was hoping to-“

Once again, the child let out a scream, causing the woman to get flustered as she tried to calm her child.

“I’m sorry, miss Ahearn; my daughter hasn’t been well,” the woman said.

“No, my apologies, miss; I’m sorry to-“

Another wail from the child came out, almost piercing Carmen’s ears. She was about to speak when Nuala interjected.

“Pardon me, miss, but may I hold her?” Nuala asked, displaying the sweetest smile she could.

The woman raised an eyebrow at Nuala, seeing her standing just barely above half of Carmen’s height. “Uh… I suppose so. You won’t steal her?” the woman asked. Nuala shook her head, still broadly smiling.

The woman gently bent over, allowing Nuala to take the girl. Nuala gently held the child, her brilliant face reflecting happiness at the baby.

“Poor dear, she’s really not well at all,” Nuala remarked, gently brushing the baby’s hair. The child instantly calmed down and looked at Nuala’s face with curiosity. Then Nuala held a hand to the side of the child’s face and whispered a barely audible incantation, one which she knew the woman wouldn’t be able to hear. The baby instantly smiled and blubbered, moving it’s hands around and causing Nuala to laugh.

“She’s beautiful, miss. You’re very fortunate,” Nuala said, letting her brilliant smile make the child happy.

The woman held a hand to her chest and smiled. “You’re the first stranger to hold her, miss. Do you have any children of your own? You seem experienced.”

Nuala shook her head, then looked up to the woman. “No, I haven’t had the pleasure yet. Soon, I hope.”

“She’s my first and it’s been difficult, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Now, what can I do for you?”

Carmen cleared her throat and began, “We’re looking for a boy, about 9 years old, English accent, looks Italian, amber eyes, goes by the name of ‘Wyn.’ “

The woman thought for a moment, then shook her head. “Sorry, I don’t know anyone by that name. What’s he done?”

“Nothing; his family is lookin’ for him, thinks he ran away. We obtained information that indicates that he might be in this area, so we’re investigating any leads here.”

The woman frowned and looked at Nuala. “He’s not your husband, is he?”

Nuala, still playing with the child, let out a light laugh. “No, no. I’m not part of any tribe; I’m engaged to a barista.”

Carmen lifted an eyebrow at Nuala. “Engaged”? She gets one date with Ranieri and she’s already “engaged”? And she hasn’t even gone on the date yet!

The woman chuckled. “Oh, okay. Maybe you can invite me and my husband to your wedding; we’ll be happy to witness it for you. Gertrude seems so accepting of you.”

Nuala looked up to the woman and smiled. “How kind of you! I would like that, since I don’t have many friends here.” Nuala looked back to the baby. “And I very much would like to see you, Gertrude, there as well.”

Gertrude squealed with happiness and blubbered a bit more, causing Nuala to laugh again.

“My name is Margaret Weaver and my husband is John. He manages a textile factory in Lawndale. Please, come in,” Margaret said, opening the door and offering Nuala and Carmen to enter.

Carmen cleared her throat again. “Apologies, miss Weaver, but we have much more work to do. Perhaps another time. If you see the boy I described to you, will you give him my card?” She pulled another tattered card from her satchel and handed it to Margaret.

Margaret smiled and took the card, looking at it and nodding. “I will, detective Ahearn.”

“Okay, Gertrude; you need to go back with your mother,” Nuala said, preparing to hand Gertrude back to Margaret. Margaret bent over and took her daughter back, noting that she was fast falling asleep in Nuala’s arms.

“You have a way with children, young woman. You’ll make an excellent mother,” Margaret said, then frowned. “I don’t think I heard your name.”

“Nuala Saar, miss Weaver. Soon to be Nuala Pietro,” Nuala answered, positively beaming.

Margaret gently laughed. “Remember to invite me to your wedding, miss Saar. Good day, detective Ahearn.”

Nuala lightly bowed and Margaret closed the door behind her, leaving Carmen and Nuala alone again. Nuala pulled out the small notebook she was using to record where they’ve visited and made another note.

“Another one busted. Guess we’ll have to continue down the street,” Carmen remarked, turning back to the sidewalk. Nuala followed while stuffing her notebook back into her bag.

“There’s not many houses left on this block; we’ve got to be getting close soon,” Nuala said, adjusting her glasses.

“By the way, ‘engaged’? Somehow I doubt you’ve told Ranieri about that yet.”

Nuala shrugged. “It put her at ease, so you can’t say it didn’t work. Besides, you know I’m hoping to get that far.”

“Just be careful with the spells. I saw you cast that healing spell; some people might not be too appreciative of you doing that.”

“Gertrude needed it, Carmen. She was starting to catch a cold. Margaret probably hasn’t been keeping her warm enough nor well-fed enough; Margaret needs to eat more herself, as well — she can’t provide enough milk for Gertrude in her current state.”

Carmen shook her head. “I’m a bit scared to ask how you were able to figure all that out.”

“Let’s call it lessons from my mother and grandmother, then leave it at that,” Nuala replied, her face turning slightly red as she tried to suppress a blush.

“Fair enough. Well, let’s see that-” Carmen halted for a moment and narrowed her eyes at a house across the street.

“See what?” Nuala asked.

“Hey, Nuala — does that door look damaged to you?”

Nuala looked around, unsure of what Carmen was talking about. “Which door?”

Carmen pointed across the street and Nuala squinted her eyes, trying to focus.

“I can’t tell,” Nuala mumbled after a moment.

“Let’s check it out,” Carmen said, making a brisk pace across the street while Nuala tried to keep up. Nuala jumped up and flew for a short distance to maintain her pace with Carmen.

“Carmen! Slow down!” Nuala exclaimed, trying to catch her breath.

Carmen stopped and began to reach for her pistol. “Nuala, hide behind the tree there. This is going to get messy.”

Nuala panted and looked up to Carmen. “What’s going on?”

“There’s traces of magic here — not portal magic, but attack magic. Someone used a firebolt to open that door.”

Nuala looked to the door on the house and saw the scorch marks — they were subtle on the black door but the white frame emphasized the brown discoloration. She looked up to Carmen and nodded, then flew over to the oak tree by the sidewalk, hiding behind it.

Carmen drew out her pistol and thumbed the hammer back, then held the pistol behind her back as she casually walked up to the door. She knocked on the door with her left hand, the door slightly rattling due to the looseness on the frame. Yeah, that’s been hit alright. The place doesn’t look abandoned and the scorch marks look recent. I think I can even smell the sulfur, too.

“Yeh, yeh! Comin’!” a voice shouted, a thick Irish accent behind it.

As I suspected — probably Irish mafia. McAleese’s goons, most likely, Carmen thought to herself.

The door opened and Carmen found herself face to face with a short, ugly looking Irish man.

“Whaddya want, lady?” the man asked, rubbing his eyes. His jaw then dropped open as he got a better look at Carmen. His brain fired into a higher gear and he tried to salvage his situation. “Oh, er… Pardon me, miss! Dun usually git ladies of yer caliber ‘ere!”

Carmen smiled. “I’m lookin’ for a boy — about 9 years old, Italian appearance, amber eyes, English accent, goes by the name of ‘Wyn.’ Have you seen him around here?”

The man’s eyes widened as he recognized Carmen’s description, then he frowned and looked away as he tried to come up with a decent lie. “Uh… Nope! Ain’t seen no boy lahk that ’round ‘ere, miss! But uh… I could… Give ya one,” the man said, a grin appearing on his face.

Carmen laughed. “You’re cute. I like you,” she said, trying to hide her disgust.

The door rattled and opened fully, with a more handsome, taller Irish man pushing the first one aside. “Git outta the way, Ham! My apologies, miss! Ham lacks manners; pay ‘im no mind,” he said, still struggling to push the first man aside.

Carmen felt a grin tugging at the corner of her mouth. Ah, boys — sometimes they’re just so easy to manipulate. Too bad McAleese didn’t give them a good description of me; they don’t have a clue.

“So, have you seen a boy matching that description?” Carmen asked the other man.

“Uh, describe him for me again, please,” the man said, a bright smile on his face.

“About 9 years old, thick English accent, looks Italian, amber eyes, answers to the name of ‘Wyn.’ “

“Hmm.” The man thought, rubbing his chin before responding, “Maybe. Not common ’round these parts, but I might’ve seen a boy in our yard out here before. Woulda been a few days ago, though, and he didn’t stick around for long.”

Ham came up and tried to push his companion away. “Git outta the way, Gerry! I saw ‘er first!”

Gerry pushed back. “Yer too ugly, Ham! You ain’t never gonna bed a woman like this, ‘less you pay ‘er! Git!”

“Ya ain’t givin’ me a chance, Gerry! C’mon!”

“Back da fuck away, Ham! You ain’t good ’nuff!”

“Uh, gentlemen-” Carmen tried to interrupt.

“C’mon, Gerry! I need ‘er! She’s a fine’un!” Ham exclaimed, ignoring Carmen.

“‘Need’ ‘er?! Ham, ya only need a whiskey n’ a spare hand!” Gerry shouted back.

“Guys!” Carmen shouted, causing the two men to quit arguing and look to her. She sighed and adjusted her jacket with her left hand. “Please, it’s important that I find this boy. His family is looking for him and they’re all very concerned about his well-being.”

“I’s toldja, I neva-” Ham tried to say, but was cut off by Gerry.

“He was in the yard a few days ago, miss,” Gerry said.

“Wasn’t!” Ham exclaimed.

“Was too!”

“Ain’t neva been in dis yard befo’!”

“God damn it, Ham! He wa-“

The sound of tires screeching on the street caused all three of them to look to the street to see a car coming to a sudden stop on the curb. A man jumped out and Carmen instantly recognized him as Jessie Eoghan. Ah, shit.

“Ya fuckin’ idjits!” Jessie shouted, “That’s Carmen! Carmen Ahearn!”

Carmen looked back to Ham and Gerry, giving them an embarrassed smile. The two men frowned, then looked at one another.

“Fer real? Dis smokin’ hot lady is Carmen Ahearn?!” Ham said with disbelief.

“Nah, canna be!” Gerry exclaimed, looking at Carmen from top to bottom. “This gal is way too polite!”

“Ya slack jawed fuckin’ morons! She’s got a fuckin’ gun behind her back!” Jessie shouted from the street.

“Oh. Oh. Yeh. That be bad,” Ham said, his brain running in overdrive to process what Jessie meant.

Gerry looked with surprise as he realized that Carmen’s right hand was behind her back, then opened his jacket to grab for the revolver tucked in his waistband. Carmen, being faster on the uptake, grabbed his shoulder with her left hand, pulling him closer and off balance, then thrust her knee right into Gerry’s crotch, causing him to grab his nether regions and painfully groan.

“Mother… Fuck… Er…” Gerry whimpered out, falling to his knees. Carmen then came around with her right hand, using the butt of her pistol to smack Gerry in the side of his head, causing him to fall completely over while holding his crotch and his head. She then leveled her pistol right at Ham’s head, causing him to go cross-eyed as he stared down the .44 caliber bore.

“Playtime’s over, Mr. Ham!” Carmen growled. “Where’s the kid?!”

“We missed ‘im! Honest to God, we missed ‘im!” Ham shouted, holding his hands up.

Carmen pointed her pistol at Ham’s crotch. “Last chance, or say au revoir to your favorite toy!”

“I’s swear, da good Lord strahk me down, I ain’t-“

Gunshots rang out and the sound of impacts over Carmen’s head caused her to dive aside while Ham ducked back inside and slammed the door. Carmen looked back to the road to see Jessie holding a revolver, taking careful aim at her. She swung her pistol around and fired a pair of shots, the sound of authority emitting from her pistol. She was rewarded with a pair of hits on Jessie’s car, just missing him but causing him to fall back and hide behind it.

Carmen got up and tried to run around behind the house, but was tripped by Gerry, reaching out to grab her ankle while still holding his crotch.

“If’n you hurt me balls, I’ll toss ya right to Ham instead!” Gerry growled.

Carmen brought her leg around and kicked Gerry in the face, causing a crunch to sound as she broke his nose. He screamed and let go of her, bringing both of his hands to his face as his nose started bleeding.

“I’d be more worried about your face, asshole!” Carmen shouted, leaping up just in time to hear more gunshots as she ducked around the corner of the house.

“Give it up, Carmen! You can’t win!” Jessie shouted.

“Neither can you, cabbage-brains!” Carmen shouted back.

“I- What the fuck?! What kinda insult is that?!” Jessie exclaimed.

Carmen ducked out and took careful aim at Jessie while he was confused, firing off a single round. She forgot to compensate for the drop, so instead of hitting him in the chest, the round bounced off the ground and went into his right calf. He screamed and bounced around on one foot, cursing with all his might.

“Shit! God damn it! Fuck! Bitch!” Jessie screamed, but before Carmen could finish him off, he ducked back down and sat behind the wheel of his car, leaving her no openings.

Carmen slid back and dropped the magazine from her pistol, counting the rounds. Three in the magazine, one in the chamber. And I’ve got no reloads — shit.

Carmen slipped the magazine back into the pistol, then carefully ducked out to see Jessie eyeing her from his car. He fired one round at her, forcing her to return to cover.

“I toldja, you can’t win, whore!” Jessie shouted, “Give it up! Don’t make me kill ya — the boss would like ya alive!”

“Over my dead body!” Carmen shouted back.

“Fine, be that-“

A burst of lightning hit Jessie’s car, leaving behind a nasty scorch mark and causing him to fall backwards.

“What da-” Before Jessie could finish his sentence, another bolt of lightning struck him in the chest, causing him to blubber and fall flat on the ground, shaking as if he had grabbed a live electric wire.

“Carmen! I have you covered!” Nuala shouted, standing on a branch of the oak tree she had been hiding behind.

“I gotta check the house, Nuala!” Carmen replied.

“He’s not there, Carmen! We have to leave!”

“You don’t know that!” Carmen moved around, looking for a back door. She saw one and ran up to it, using her foot to break it down and roll through it. She did a quick analysis of her surroundings and noted the washroom to her right and a doorway to her left, leading to a dining room. She carefully went forward, seeing a common room for the entryway ahead and a stairway on her left.

“Wyn?! Are you here?” Carmen shouted. She suddenly felt an arm around her chest, then another grabbed her hand and pointed her pistol away. She tried to fight with her aggressor, glancing behind herself to recognize it as Ham. Naturally! Smart detective work there, Carmen! Who else would it be?!

“I toldja, da kid ain’t ‘ere!” Ham grunted out, fighting with Carmen.

“Why don’t I believe you, then?!” Carmen growled back, trying to get Ham to release her chest. He swung her arm around and smacked her right hand against a wall, causing her to drop the pistol. He then used both his hands to hold onto Carmen, trying to control her with one hand on her chest and the other on her arm.

“Ya got fight in ya, lady! Whys dontcha lemme give ya a kid — ya dun need Wyn!” Ham lustfully said.

“In the words of John Paul Jones,” Carmen grunted, grabbing Ham’s neck with her left hand, “I have not yet begun to fight!” She put all of her might into leaning forward, pulling Ham over her head and using her legs to swing him forward and down. He went over and down, crashing into the floor with a solid thunk, releasing her as the impact forced air out of his lungs and her hat tumbling off along with him.

“Whoof… Yer… Yer good…” Ham wheezed out. Carmen panted and jumped forward, grabbing her pistol off the floor and pointing it at Ham as he sat up.

“I suggest you gather your friend,” Carmen said, breathing heavily, “and get the fuck out of here before I give you a .44 caliber lobotomy.”

Ham stood up then bent over to brace himself, both hands on his knees. “Nah. Ya ain’t gonna shoot me. Ya woulda dun it by now.”

“Don’t push your luck,” Carmen growled.

“Imma take you n’ youse gonna lahk it,” Ham said, standing up straight and beginning to walk over to Carmen. She responded by firing a single shot, hitting Ham right in the chest. He wheezed for a moment and shivered, then fell to his knees, gently holding his chest wound.

“I’s… Thought… Lobot… Loboto…” Ham mumbled out, then fell over completely. Carmen sighed and relaxed her arm, looking around. Shoulda listened to Nuala. Damn it.

Carmen moved around and looked out a window to see Gerry stumbling around in the yard, making his way toward Jessie’s car. She grabbed her hat from the floor, then walked around to the front door and opened it, then made a brisk pace up behind Gerry. She timed herself just right and gave him a solid kick from behind, right into his crotch again.

“Agh…” Gerry wheezed out, grabbing his crotch and falling to his knees, then finally passing out on the front yard from the pain.

Carmen sighed and fell down on her butt, taking her hat off and rubbing the sweat off of her face with the sleeve of her jacket. She looked to the street, hearing sirens going off as the police finally made their arrival. Guess someone has a phone around here. Took ’em long enough.

“Carmen!” Nuala shouted. “Are you all right?” She flew down from the oak tree, running up to Carmen. Carmen gave her a lazy smile, noticing that she was at eye level with the fairy. She then pulled Nuala in and embraced her with her right arm.

“Yes, I’m fine. Thanks,” Carmen answered.

Nuala wormed her way out of Carmen’s hug and balled her hands into fists. “You should have ran, Carmen! I’m telling your mother what you did! You could have gotten yourself killed!”

Carmen laughed. “You’re so cute when you’re angry. Just cute, cute, cute! You make me want to hug you when you’re like that.”

Nuala rubbed her forehead. “For crying out loud… Now I’m going to miss my date with Ranieri!”

Carmen waved her hand dismissively. “Ah, don’t worry about it. I’ll pull some favors with the force and get ’em to take you right back to the office. You’ll have plenty of time.”

Nuala fell on her butt as well, drawing her legs up to her chest. “You’d better, Carmen. If you’ve ruined my chances with Ranieri, I’ll never forgive you!”

Carmen scooted over and put an arm around Nuala. “Nuala, you’ll get there in time — I promise. Besides, Ranieri loves you too much to let one date ruin it; he’ll understand once he learns what happened here.”

Nuala sighed. “I’m still telling your mother.”

Return to Fire in the Clouds