This is the freebie poem for the July Crowdfunding Creative Jam. It was inspired by a prompt from clare_dragonfly.
As Brenda wheeled her combat chair up the ramp,
Nate ran ahead of her to open the door
just as her office neighbor Rick popped out
to do the exact same thing.
"Here, let me get that for you," Nate said,
flashing a lawyer's shark-toothed grin.
"I've got it," Rick said, nudging Nate aside
with construction-worker muscles.
Brenda reached between them and opened the door.
"Never mind, boys, I've got it," she said
as she rolled over the threshold.
She pulled off her helmet,
freeing her long brown hair.
The velcro sounded like ripping canvas
as she peeled back the thick black tabs.
Brenda sighed in relief as she shucked off
the bulletproof vest. Then she removed
the arm guards and leg guards.
She hung her heavy armor carefully on its rack
beside her desk, then stowed her guns.
"It never ceases to amaze me," Nick said,
"just how much equipment you can pack on."
"Well, that djinn isn't going down easy," said Brenda.
"I really thought we had him tonight,
but he slipped me again.
The client will not be pleased."
"You'll get him," Nick said. "You always do."
"It's going to take more beatwork, though," Brenda said.
"I know you can armor up like a tank," Nick said,
"but it's really not safe. I'm your lawyer, I worry."
Brenda shrugged. "If I wanted to spend all my time at a desk,
I would have joined the police department," she said.
"This case needs more undercover work.
I'm going to dress up and hit The Searing Wind again.
You go back to the poking at the legal end of things.
Thanks for the ride, by the way." She rolled her wheelchair
up to her desk and turned on her computer.
So Nick went back to his own office,
while Brenda revisited her notes on the case.
Her client had hired her to find out
what made The Searing Wind so much more attractive
than the clubs that he himself owned.
It was nothing so simple as drugs, gambling,
and loose women, though all of those were there.
It was the djinn, and his ability
to see that a patron's dearest wish got met,
for a suitable price.
She had identified the djinn, tracked his movements,
only to lose him when he spooked and vanished.
Brenda suspected police involvement,
which meant she needed to close quickly,
or the djinn would flee the area.
She was prepared for his tricks, but
the officers with their more conventional worldview
would have no defense against him.
The next evening, Brenda wore
her minimalist armor under a yellow dress
and ventured into the questionable neighborhood
where The Searing Wind spilled neon light into the dark street.
Her wheels went whack-whack over the raised threshold,
and Brenda felt grateful that her low profile
kept the clouds of blue smoke well above her head.
She cruised the club, tuning out the over-loud music
and the exaggerated cheer of the patrons.
She spied the djinn once in his pricey burgundy suit,
brown eyes lit with a crimson spark,
but he wasn't doing anything tonight.
Only the faintest tinge of ambient magic lingered to
beckon people inside and tickle the hairs on the back of her neck.
Then a sharper prickle snagged her attention.
Brenda followed it to a rakish fellow in a leather coat,
his dark hair falling in messy waves over his face.
He noticed her watching him and pushed away from the bar,
sidling through the crowd to join her.
"You look familiar," he said. "Come here often?"
"Recently, yes," she said, with an inviting tip of her head.
Perhaps tonight's information gathering would bear fruit.
"Let's get a table and talk," he suggested.
Brenda followed him willingly enough,
and he casually swung a chair away from the table
to make room for her wheelchair.
"So what do you think of the club?" she asked.
"Seems like a place where people find what they want,"
he said, glancing at a man with a barely-legal girl in his lap.
"What do you think of it?"
"I think it has pretty good action under the covers," she said.
He didn't flinch, but the frission of energy spiked.
"I'm here on business too," she added,
"and you spooked my perp last night."
"Let's take this outside," he suggested. Brenda nodded.
They found a quiet niche between two buildings.
"Are you with the feds?" he asked.
"No, I'm a private investigator," Brenda said.
"I handle cases a little weirder than the police do."
He shivered in his leather coat. "That guy ..." he said.
"The guy who owns the club is seriously weird."
"Let's say, if you tangle with him, you'd have a hard time
explaining the fight to your boss later," said Brenda.
"If you'd like to come back to my office, though,
I can show you what I've got on this case."
He agreed, and off they went again.
Brenda gave him the paper photos to browse
while she booted up the computer.
She wondered what he would make of the ones
where the club owner was not in human form.
"Brenda Cochlain," he read aloud.
"Why does your nameplate say P.I.E. at the end?"
He traced a finger along the frame.
"Private Investigator Extraordinaire," Brenda said,
which was mostly true. The other part,
the extrasensory part, she left unsaid for now.
"Oh, uh, I'm Darrel Finn," he said.
"I guess I've lost the habit of introducing myself.
After my rookie year, they put me on undercover work."
He shook his head, baffled. "I'm good at what I do.
How the devil did you make me?"
Brenda reached over to tweak a photo from the stack,
revealing the djinn as he shifted into his elemental form.
"I get hunches when things aren't what they seem."
"That ... would not go well in a report," Darrel said glumly
as he gazed at the fiery shape in the picture.
"So what do your hunches tell you?"
Brenda stroked her mental fingertips over his energy.
"I knew you didn't fit with the crowd at the club," she said.
"It took a little longer to recognize you as a cop."
Something more rippled into her awareness.
"Oh, and you know somebody else in a wheelchair,
somebody fairly close to you."
"My first partner lost his legs in a car-chase pileup,
not quite a year ago now," Darrel admitted.
"So what happened to you ...?"
"Kayaking accident," Brenda said.
"You must really miss the wilderness," Darrel said.
"Yeah, I live for summer vacations," Brenda said.
"It's been months since I hit the white water."
Darrel laughed. "Okay, you got me, I wasn't expecting that.
But now I think about it, I get that you'd still
throw yourself into a foaming river. It's so you."
Then he looked back down at the photos,
and his face fell. "I don't know what to do
about the flaming perp, though," he said.
"He's a djinn," Brenda explained.
"He finds ways to give people what they want most.
Usually it's ordinary vice stuff, but sometimes,
he uses magic for the hard-to-get ones."
"Show me what else you've got on him," Darrel said.
So Brenda opened the financial files,
and her surveillance notes,
and the few scraps of legal issues that Nick dug up.
"He's pretty clean," she said. "That's why my client
hired me, to figure out why his club is insanely successful."
"Because that kind of success is rarely legal, yes,
that's part of what made the department suspicious,"
Darrel agreed. "I don't have proof yet, not on him,
but I've got a line on some of his suppliers."
"I hadn't thought of that," Brenda said.
"I've just been angling for the djinn, myself.
No jail would hold him, you couldn't even catch him.
But I could deal with him, and leave the human perps to you."
"How could you handle a guy who turns into fire?"
Darrel asked, shaking his head.
"Research," said Brenda, and showed him
the mercury hollowpoints.
"Water-associated metal to kill a fire elemental.
The club name is out of the Quran, actually --
it's said that Allah made the djinn
from the fire of a searing wind."
"What if his human allies attack you?" Darrel asked.
"You could just leave this to the professionals."
"The professionals who can't handle a djinn,"
Brenda reminded him. "For humans,
if they get past you, I have ordinary bullets
and a first-degree black belt in tae kwon do."
"So you're a sharpshooter and a martial artist,"
said Darrel. "That must be useful in your line of work."
"Swords too," Brenda added, for sake of completion.
"You could kill me in so many ways," Darrel said.
"That is so hot."
Brenda smiled, thinking of Rick's valiant attempt
to make friends by inviting her to the firing range,
followed by his crushing disappointment when she beat him.
They talked about Brenda's previous attempt
to corner the djinn and how it had failed.
They thought it came down to a combination
of Brenda's obvious preparations
and Darrel's maneuvering of the human contacts.
So they formed a new plan with more subtle preparations.
Brenda would have to forgo her combat chair
with its kevlar back and seat, and use the everyday chair.
Darrel would endeavor to separate the djinn from his human allies,
flushing the djinn into Brenda's back-room ambush
while directing aiding the police in collaring the rest.
Brenda prepared for the confrontation with great care.
She wore a red velvet dress cut to reveal her charms
and hide her minimalist armor, vivid as an eyeful of fire,
sure to attract the attention of the djinn.
Her gun nestled securely in its concealed holster,
baton and stiletto hidden amidst the wheelchair's hardware.
When she rolled into the club, it was already crowded.
Brenda could not see Darrel or the other officers,
but she knew they must be there, sharp eddies in the energy
prickling at her senses like sparks along cool metal.
There was the djinn holding court in one corner,
draped with beautiful women and handsome men,
his burning eyes surveying the room for new marks.
"Listen quick, then blow me off," Darrel murmured
as he came up beside her, offering a drink.
"If this works, he'll take you into the back room."
Brenda took a sip and then handed the glass back,
flapping her hand at Darrel to shoo him away.
She tucked herself into a corner and watched
as Darrel approached the djinn, motioning toward her.
Before long, the djinn glided over to Brenda.
"I do hope you're enjoying yourself tonight, my dear,"
he said as he leaned over her.
Brenda snorted. "Can't a girl have a night out
without men pestering her all the time?"
"I see that my hospitality is not all you could wish,"
he said smoothly. "Perhaps you'd prefer a quieter room in back?"
She followed him, the rims of the wheels cool under her hands,
muscled arms propelling her confidently along.
The back room was quieter, dimmer,
humming with hidden magic.
Brenda opened the secret pockets in her fingerless gloves,
spilling a mix of salt and powdered glass,
binding the djinn to his corporeal form.
Shouts rang out from the main club
as the police sprang their trap.
Fire flared and died around the djinn,
failed attempt at transformation sputtering out.
Brenda bared her teeth in a savage grin
as he stalked toward her.
"I could grant your dearest wish," the djinn purred,
laying his hand on Brenda's knee
and projecting an image of her standing tall.
Brenda put her gun to his hot skin and pulled the trigger.
"Wish granted," she said. "That's been my fantasy
about dealing with people who are too helpful:
double-tap center mass, follow with a shot to the head."
Darrel stared down at the rapidly dissolving body.
"Remind me never to open doors for you," he muttered.
"Anyhow, the uniforms have the front room contained.
You can slip out the back with me; we're keeping my cover
intact a while longer, in case we missed anyone tonight."
"Good plan," Brenda said to Darrel.
They made it out the back door, carefully
hopping her wheelchair down the single step to the alley.
A single policeman studiously looked the other way as they passed.
She thought about it later, of course,
the djinn's offer niggling at her mind
as she trundled over the broken sidewalk.
For all the split-second temptation, though,
she would not make herself beholden to another,
would not live her life in a body
bent to another's will instead of her own.
"We're supposed to blend in," Darrel reminded her
when she swerved adroitly around a trashcan
and heads turned to follow the motion.
"Don't worry so much," Brenda said.
"This would be easier," Darrel muttered,
"if you were wearing something
less eye-catching than scarlet velvet."
"Don't forget the kevlar underneath it," Brenda said.
"I'm just not a missable kind of gal."
Darrel smiled at her then. "I've only known you
a few days," he said, "but already I think
that if we parted ways, I'd miss you."
"You don't have to," she said.
"You're welcome to stick around,
as long as you don't expect me to hide."
"I just try to be inconspicuous most of the time,"
Darrel explained, "because I don't like people staring at me."
"Trust me, hon," said Brenda, "if we're together,
people won't be staring at you, they'll be staring at me."
"That works for me," Darrel declared.
He stopped right there in the crosswalk,
wrapped his arms around Brenda, tilted her back,
and kissed her quite thoroughly.