Tricks of the Trade - By Laura Anne Gilman


My name is Bonnie Torres, and I’m a student of (in)human nature. More specifically, and according to the business cards we don’t actually have yet, I’m a Paranormal Scene Investigator. What that means is that I look at the world a little differently than most, even among my fellow Talent.

I used to be an idealist of sorts. Not that everyone was good – I knew firsthand that we were all filled with conflicting impulses, some positive and some negative, and sometimes the negative ones got out and did damage. I also knew that there were people who didn’t feel any guilt about the damage they did. But a year ago, I would have claimed that responsibility was all about your intent; that if you meant well, did your best, and didn’t hurt anyone, you could sleep with a clear conscience. Then I was recruited to join PUPI, Ian Stosser’s dream of an unbiased, impartial investigative unit designed to ferret out the truth behind crimes of a magical nature or cause.

Ian Stosser had been a certified boy wonder, once upon a time: Golden Boy of the Midwest Council, high-res Talent and general scary-ass smart guy. But something happened in Chicago, something they still don’t talk about, and he came to New York with his business partner Benjamin Venec, to hang their shingle here.

Ian said there was a need, that the Cosa Nostradamus needed us, to save it from itself. The Cosa Nostradamus wasn’t all that thrilled to be saved, but Ian had been right – there was a need. After only a few months we – the Private, Unaffiliated Paranormal Investigations team – got our first case, a bad one: a double murder. We solved it, proved what had happened, let the authorities – such as the Cosa has – handle the punishment. And then, once we’d demonstrated we could be trusted to be fair in our investigations, impartial in our discoveries, we were approached to investigate a few more, and they were all bad.

They only call us when it’s bad.

Magic isn’t an instinct; for most of us it requires forethought to pull current and direct it against someone else. That means Talent mostly don’t commit crimes of passion, but ones of forethought and malice. By the time we get called in? The crime’s been committed, and all we see is the tarry residue left in the aftermath, the pain and the grief and the greed and the malice and the denial – and, sometimes, the regret and remorse, too late to do any good.

When I took this job, my mentor had warned me: you rarely see anyone’s shining better nature in this job. He’d been right.

PUPI did good work, though. We got people answers, closure. We were making sure that there were consequences to actions. From the lonejacks and gypsies on the street to the Council members in their hushed private offices, the word was spreading: we were smart, we were sharp, and we were unaffiliated – something rare in the highly political world of magic. If you came to us with a mystery, we would find the answers, no matter where they led.

We investigated events. We stuck to the facts. But there’s no way, I was learning, that you could separate facts and events from the people who drive them. And people? People are complicated. Responsibility is complicated.

Every case we took, from the cold-blooded killer-for-hire to the regret-stricken being who let terrible things happen for love, taught me that some acts cannot be excused, no matter the intent... and that it’s possible to sleep soundly, your conscience clear as a cloudless sky, after inflicting terrible harm on someone. People aren’t good. They’re not bad, either, mostly. They’re actions and reactions, pushed this way and that by things we have so little control over.

There is a black and a white, yeah. And a thousand shades of gray, between. Most of us? We think our shade of gray is a hell of a lot lighter than it is. But we each have the choice – maybe not where we stand, but how aware we are of what we do.

Responsibility is complicated. Also, uncomfortable.

Being a pup isn’t easy. We look. We observe. We don’t turn away.

And if I don’t sleep soundly some nights... I have to believe it’s worth it, in the end.

* * *


Every Talent in the city probably felt it when The Roblin arrived, but most of them didn’t know what it was, not even after everything was done and dusted.