And perhaps I was being a fool. Perhaps I would have to drag the detective back inside and hand him over to Mr. Reddy until they found a witch to erase his memory. But I'd seen new girls marveling over the truth of theater, stating how impossible it was.
"And fae?" he asked.
Fae. He knew. He knew they existed, I was sure of it now.
"Not lately," I said, and DS Piper twitched. "We had an Unseelie fellow a few years ago, Jacobi, with the finest, most delicate wings I'd ever seen in my life."
Piper was breathing heavily, sucking in huge lungfuls of air and gusting them out just as quickly, eyes still darting, mind most certainly racing in panic.
"Did they take your wings too?" I asked, reaching a hand up to brush my fingers over the top of his ear. He stiffened in front of me, lips parted, but his breaths stopped altogether as he stared back at me in horror. I smiled carefully. "No human walks into the theater unaccompanied or without an invitation to work. We have all sorts of charms in place to keep them out, to keep the theater safe and secret. What are you? A quarter fae?"
I thought he might not answer, that he might even run from me. Then his tongue peeked out, wetting his lips before he spoke.
"Half," he whispered.
I nodded, relaxing slightly.
"They couldn't cut my wings, so I keep them hidden," he added, searching my face with that terrified stare.
I winced for him. "I imagine that isn't comfortable."
He released a shuddering breath, stumbling backwards and hitting the wall of the building. His legs were shaking. "I had…had no idea…"
"That there was more," I finished for him, nodding along as he blinked at me. "A whole world. Right under our noses. Or, more correctly, out of the corner of our eyes."
"A yeti," he said, sounding the word out with a frown.
"A mountain race from the east," I explained. "Although Goliath was born here in England, I believe."
"And…and this theater…"
"It's like a bridge," I said, reciting words I'd once heard from Mr. Reddy. "A connection between the two worlds. I don't know why exactly, but humans fascinate monsters. A forbidden fruit, I suppose. My neighborhood isn't so wrong about Beth and I. We are…a kind of whore, in truth. But we only work here at this theater."
He frowned at that, looking at the door.
"Detective Sergeant, regardless of why you can walk through those doors, don't," I said sternly, catching his attention again. "You live as a human. You pass for one. You work with them. If you step into that theater again, you'll be walking in from the wrong world. This isn't a place you can snoop without consequences. The theater protects its own, humans and monsters alike. There's nothing for you to learn here that you can take back to your superiors."
He reached up, pulling the hat from his head, and I couldn't help but glance at those ears. I didn't remember getting mine clipped, if it had hurt or if I'd cried, and I imagined sometimes what I might look like now with the pointed tips. More like my mother?
"And what if the theater has something to do with why she was killed?" he asked, standing straight again.
"No one who works here would ever hurt Beth," I said, wanting to speak of Myra or Mr. Reddy, but knowing I'd already risked enough.
"And what about your audience members?" he asked. "Can you vouch for them too?"
I wrapped my arms around myself and thought over his words. "If you're right, then I hope for my sake you find the killer soon," I said, and he drew in a sharp breath before I continued. "But you can't investigate here. Not if you want to keep walking in the world you live in. If you cross the bridge, you won't find the road behind you if you turn back."
The hat returned to his head and his fingernails scratched over the stubble on his cheeks as he glared down at the ground.
"You should leave before someone comes looking for me," I said.
That shocked him out of his stillness, gaze flicking to the door we'd exited from and through the alley.
"Humans really can't find this place?" he asked.
"None ever have on their own," I said, shrugging. "Be honest with yourself. Do you really want to report this back to your inspector? Would he believe you? Or would you just make that world you're hiding in look a little too closely at you?"
"I understand, Miss Nix," DS Piper snarled, hands clenching at his side. He started marching toward the end of the alley, but he paused halfway, his back to me and head turned just enough to see the strong lines of his profile. "If you want your friend's death to find justice, you'd better hope her killer was human. The police can't solve a crime we can't investigate."
I didn't answer, waiting and watching until he turned the corner, away from the theater marquee and back toward the bland and predictable streets of London.
I pulled the door open and hurried back inside. Rehearsals would've started up again, and while I wasn't needed until the last scene, my absence altogether might've been noticed, especially if Ronan was still looking for me.
But it wasn't Ronan who looked relieved as I wove through the aisles to join the others.
"There you are, lovey!" Myra called under her breath, jumping up from the edge of the stage, a pile of boxes wrapped in glossy black paper stacked in her arms. Behind her, Alexa squirmed on a table set for a feast, posing and stretching to check lighting marks, a few stagehands play acting at taking bites, standing in for her collection of vampire scene partners who were still dead to the world in the basement.
"Hazel," Ronan whispered, rising from a seat at the edge of the aisle, his hand extended for me.
I dodged around his stretching wing and reaching hand. "Myra needs me."
"These came for us during lunch," Myra said, almost vibrating with joy as she bounced on her toes, her grip on the boxes firm. "Your costume for your scene. Come downstairs with me. We'll see if it needs tweaking."
"Out of the way, Missy," Mr. Reddy hissed, trying to watch the stage. "No, that light on her cunny needs to be brighter! Brighter, I said!"
I ducked out of Mr. Reddy's way and followed Myra back to the wings. "I thought I was wearing the pink gown for the scene?"
"Oh, that old rag? We've used that dress for years now. No! You need something fine, the Gemini said. And jewels, remember?"
The only "jewels" the theater had were a few paste necklaces, all of which had gems missing, and one tarnished tiara.
"Mr. Reddy let you buy a new gown?" I asked.