Indirection (Borealis Without a Compass #1) - Gregory Ashe
“STAKEOUTS DON’T REQUIRE CHEESE,” SHAW SAID to his partner, boyfriend, and best friend since college, North McKinney. They were sitting in a borrowed Ford sedan on a quiet block of Kingshighway. On one side of them, Forest Park opened up, where puddles of safety lights illuminated February-bare branches. On the other side stood businesses, churches, Barnes-Jewish Hospital, condominium buildings, and the glowing façade of The Luxemburg. Still nothing.
“It’s not cheese.” North’s voice was low and deep, with the heat of a fire about to catch. He rattled the can for emphasis.
“It’s got cheese in the name.”
“No, it’s got cheez in the name.” North traced the letters with one finger. “See? That’s so they can’t get sued for false advertising.”
“That makes it even worse. You understand that, right? It’s probably full of benzoates and carrageenan and that’s not even getting started on what dairy does to your body.”
“Because of your dairy allergy.”
North’s jaw tightened before he spoke again. “That’s what I’m trying to tell you: I’m ninety-nine percent sure there’s no dairy in this. None. It has cheez, Shaw. Not cheese. So I’m totally safe.”
“I really think—”
“I’m just going to—”
“No,” North rumbled, and when Shaw reached for the can, North planted a hand against Shaw’s head and shoved him against the driver’s window.
“It’s killing you,” Shaw said, trying to knock North’s arm away. “By 2038, I won’t have a boyfriend anymore.”
“It’s going to take that long? God, I need to start buying this in bulk.”
“North, I absolutely forbid you to—”
The can’s hiss interrupted Shaw. One-handed, North sprayed a mound of the artificial cheez onto a cracker balanced on his knee. The mound got bigger. And bigger. North didn’t stop until the pyramid of cheez started to topple, and then he scooped up the cracker and shoved it in his mouth. He grinned, displaying the cheez foam between his teeth, and crunched loudly. Then he coughed.
Shaw watched him for a minute as the coughing continued and tears ran down North’s face. North was getting plenty of air. He was also white-knuckling the can of cheez spray as though he thought Shaw might take advantage of this moment of weakness.
“Don’t worry,” Shaw said, putting his fingers to his temples. “Master Hermes just recognized that I’m now a level-five psychic. I’ll dissolve the cracker with my mind, and while I’m in there, I’ll fix that acid reflux you’ve been—”
“Don’t you fucking dare,” North croaked, swatting Shaw’s hands away from his temples. He managed to swallow, cleared his throat, and in a raspy but more normal voice continued, “First of all, that psychic stuff is bullshit Master Hermes sells you when he has to pay the vig to those Bosnian guys he borrowed from.”
“Oh, he didn’t borrow it. The spirit of George Gershwin showed him where—”
“And second of all, even though I know it’s not real, don’t you ever fucking dare use that juju to mess around inside me.”
“A lesser man would point out that a couple of nights ago you were begging me to mess around inside you.”
“And third of all, I don’t have acid reflux. I got food poisoning from that fucking toxic nacho cheese—”
“Dairy allergy,” Shaw murmured.
Whatever North had been about to say, he didn’t finish because instead he screamed with what sounded like frustration. Softly.
Movement at The Luxemburg’s front door drew Shaw’s attention. In the flood of lights illuminating the building’s exterior, Chris Hobson might as well have been standing on a stage. He was in his late twenties, close to North and Shaw’s age, cute but on the verge of being rat-faced. He was an investment wunderkind at Aldrich Acquisitions, the company owned and run by Shaw’s father, and he’d been responsible for helping Aldrich Acquisitions become a principal investor in several highly valued biotech startups. He was also, Shaw and North were pretty sure, a thief.
“He’s moving,” Shaw said, taking out his phone. He sent the same message to Pari, their assistant, and to her nonbinary datemate, Truck.
Kingshighway was a busy road during the day, but late on Sunday, the flow of cars was irregular. Twice that night an ambulance had headed into Barnes-Jewish, sirens screaming, and once a Silverado had pulled to the curb ahead of Shaw and North, breaking the crust of old snow so that a troop of frat boys could pile out and piss on the sidewalk. Chouteau boys, undoubtedly—the same college, just up the road, where North and Shaw had met. Other than that, though, the night’s entertainment had consisted of Shaw trying