Magic apocalypse or not, Sal thought, it still takes forever to get your bags at JFK. The airport was, as ever, under construction, with a new bit of the terminal meeting an old bit of the terminal meeting stretches of exposed drywall. The two hours getting through customs were almost soothing in their familiarity, a procedural ticker tape parade to welcome her back to New York, even if the officer did have a lot more questions for them than usual when she saw that Sal and Menchú were coming from London. Yes, we have been in contact with magic. No, we don’t appear to have been infected. No, we have no extra appendages.
“That last one was a joke,” the customs officer said.
“Ha, ha,” Sal said. Menchú didn’t so much as crack a smile.
Detective Collins was waiting for Sal and Menchú outside the terminal, leaning against a gray Crown Victoria. He shot Sal an enormous smile and put his arms out, ready for a hug.
“You know you’re not fooling anyone with this car,” Sal said. “Only cops drive these things.”
“Cops or ex-cops,” Collins said. “I like to keep them on their toes.” He wrapped his arms around her, patted her on the back like she was family. “It’s been too long,” he said.
“Yeah,” Sal said. “It has. You’re looking good. Thinner.”
“They got me running. Also, I stopped eating meat.”
“Saw a couple things a while back that turned me off,” Collins said. “You cut your hair.”
“Not on purpose. So they got you on the NYPD magic squad now?” Sal said.
Collins chuckled. “It’s new enough that they haven’t even figured out what to call it yet. But yeah, magic squad. Makes sense now that we’re seeing an uptick in cases.”
“And they assigned you to it?”
“I volunteered,” Collins said. “After what happened with you and your brother? Just couldn’t quite get it off my mind. How is your brother, by the way?”
I don’t know, Sal wanted to say, but didn’t. “He’s okay,” she said. “Hanging in there.”
“Aren’t we all,” Collins said.
They left the airport and were instantly stuck in traffic on the Belt Parkway. Another thing that never changed.
“How are you all doing around here?” Sal said.
“You mean with the magic?” Collins said. “Oh, not bad. We’ve seen some things, for sure. Nothing like what you’ve seen over in London, I bet, but we’ve got our share. There’s a building in Jackson Heights that’s turned into a . . . well, a foot, is the best we can make out, though who knows where the rest of the body is. There’s a spot under the FDR where things don’t come out once they go in. And we see our people who have changed, or who have been changed. I don’t know how to say it, but you know what I mean. Not only melted arms or extra eyes. People that just seem off, like they spent a minute in the microwave or something.”
“Like drugs, but different,” Sal said.
“Right,” Collins said. “Though you hit it on the head—it’s different, but it’s like something we’ve seen before, you know? It’s new, but it’s not.” He wiped his mouth with his hand. “I don’t know. Right after London, when the first few things happened around here, the press had a field day with it. Everyone was scared. But within a week or so the Post and the Daily News were putting puns in the headlines again. You know how it is. People can’t be on high alert forever. Eventually, even if the church on the corner is made of hair and your sister’s an ostrich, you still got to make rent on the first of the month.”
“What?” Collins said.
“Nothing,” Sal said. “It’s just good to see you. It’s good to be here.”
A white Lexus sedan cut in front of them and Collins laid on the horn.
“You’d think with all the magic going around, someone would whip us up another westbound highway out of JFK. But no,” Collins said. In the stopped traffic, he turned to Sal and Menchú. “You need a nap? Cup of coffee?”
Menchú shook his head.
“No, we’re all right,” Sal said.
“Okay,” Collins said. “Because we only have one exit to go.”
“What’s our first stop?” Menchú asked.
“The morgue,” Collins said.
The medical examiner pulled out the drawer supporting the body of Eduardo Tzampop like she’d had a long day. She peeled the sheet away. Sal saw Menchú take a small step back. The face looked as if parts of it had been turned to clay and then pressed down upon. Other...