Chapter 7: I drive women mad
Copyright © 2015 by Brian Bixby
Another day, another meeting. Amelia’s thoughtfully provided breakfast, considering it’s 8 in the morning. Everyone else from the Office is here. And there’s Sanderson, though not MacGregor this time. I grab some food from the table and take the only remaining seat, between Joshi and Winter. Joshi smiles a greeting, while Winter pointedly ignores me.
Amelia’s got her bandages off. There’s a raw spot on the side of her head. Funny, it looks in better shape than I would have thought. Wish my balls felt as good. I have to smile thinking about that, though not about how much they still hurt.
From her seat on the couch, Amelia speaks up. “Now that Harry’s here, let’s begin. You all don’t know each other, and we need to work together, so a quick ID will help.” She turns to her right. “Ben?”
“Ben Keller, demon slayer, telekineticist.” So this is the famous Keller. He’s young, not even thirty, with his head shaved bald, but he radiates confidence and power. Good.
“Stan Yee, demon slayer, exorcist.” Stan may be old, but no one’s steadier. He’s seen everything already.
“Margaret Winter, necromancer, interrogation specialist.” The ice queen looks as good as ever, but there’s no hope there.
I contribute my own piece. “Harry Eberhardt, demon slayer.” When you’re as good as I am, you need only one board-qualified specialty.
“Polly Joshi, spirit tracker, healer, empath.” Forgot that Polly’s a healer; that probably explains why Amelia’s wound is healing fast. I like working with Polly. I’d like to bed her, too, even though she’s such a short and slight creature. Healers are said to be great as lovers. Wonder if she’s available these days.
Sanderson, sitting with Amelia on the couch, is last. “Sanderson.” She pauses, uncertain as to what to say, and then holds up her right hand. She’s not wearing gloves this time. “Night feathers.” She shrugs, looks at Amelia, and adds, “Bar fighter.”
This is the first time I’ve had a good look at these mysterious night feathers. They form a patch that covers the back of her hand from the base of her fingers all the way down to her wrist. The feathers themselves look to be small and numerous. They’re quivering slightly, causing their appearance to change with the way they catch the light from being a dead black to having a prismatic glow over their blackness. I look around the room, and see that everyone other than Amelia is also staring at Sanderson’s hand. She herself notices, becomes flustered, and drops her hands into her lap as if to hide the feathers.
Amelia coughs to get our attention. “I haven’t had this much talent on one case in a while. Sadly, we’re going to need it. We’ve been hearing from Rashelle Washington that a killer demon’s been cruising the Interstates, but all we had were bodies of victims. No eyewitness who could identify the human or humans the demon possessed, and our necromancers couldn’t raise any ghosts from the victims.” Amelia looks over to Marge. “You were at Knoxville, Marge?”
Marge nods. “Husband and wife both dead. Couldn’t raise a ghost off either of them.”
Amelia resumes her description of the case. “The demon struck here three nights ago, and then again yesterday. According to Rashelle, that’s not its usual pattern; in fact, it hadn’t returned anywhere before, ever. We think Agent Trainee Eurydice Young accidentally alerted it by trying to track it at the site of its first killing here. On its return, it killed again, sacrificed its previous host, killing him in the process, and took possession of Agent Young, who has since departed for parts unknown. Agent Sanderson here has been training Young, so I’ll let her describe Young.”
Sanderson looks around at us all, and then begins. “Deecee, Eurydice Young, was raised in a very conservative religious cult which disapproved of her magical powers as demonic, and her lesbian sexual preferences as unnatural, and taught her to suppress both. Valerie Thompson rescued her out of the cult, and she was in training with the San Francisco branch. Val brought us together so I could help Deecee with her social skills and to make her more comfortable with her sexual orientation by helping her associate with compatible people. I guess someone in your organization was doing the same with her magical powers. She was . . . uh, ah, supposed to be, how do you say, getting qualified in six specialties, I think.”
Amelia knows how we’re reacting to that last statement. So she reiterates the point herself. “That’s right: Young was slated to be board-qualified in six specialties, once she could get around the fear of her own powers her upbringing had given her. We cannot afford to have a magician that powerful possessed by a homicidal demon and running loose. And deep down, she probably still believes her powers are demonic, which means the demon will be able to manipulate her easily. Probably how he got past her barriers in the first place.
“I’ve never lost an agent on a case before, and I don’t intend to start now. But let me make it clear: this demon is powerful, intelligent, and lethal. If your own lives are threatened by this creature, or we have no other alternative, strike to kill without regard for Young’s life.” Amelia turns to Sanderson. “We’ll try to save her if we can. That’s one reason you’re here. But if we have to kill her, know it and know it well that killing Deecee Young would be a mercy compared to what that demon is probably doing to her.”
Sanderson doesn’t take it well. But for once, she says nothing.
Amelia turns back to address us all. “And now to work. Harry, you and Marge go tackle the witnesses to see if you can get anything out of them. Polly, Stan, Ben, I want you to go over the murder scenes. Sanderson, we’ve got some things to go over; you stay with me. Everyone got it? Then go.”
Marge Winter tells me she has to get something in her room, so we step over to it. It’s next door to Amelia’s, another suite. We step inside, I close the door, turn around, and find Marge standing inches away.
In her coldest tone, she tells me, “I haven’t forgotten Milwaukee, Harry. Try anything like that again, and I swear I’ll have you up before a disciplinary board before you can zip your pants up.”
Bring that up again. I try to treat the matter as unimportant. “You should have told Amelia before she ordered us to work together.”
Marge turns around and sits down at the table. She gives me a sardonic smile. “No doubt she knows we’re on bad terms. Hell, I even saw Polly look startled when Amelia assigned us to work together, and Polly’s as far away from a gossip as you can get.” She shakes her head. “Knowing Amelia, she did this deliberately to force us to be professional with each other. So let’s be professional. Sit down, Harry, and tell me what’s up with this Sanderson woman.”
I take one of the other seats at the table. I’d be happier to take Marge’s invitation to be professional if she just hadn’t threatened me. So I reply, “What do you mean?”
Marge rolls her eyes. “She’s no agent of ours, despite Amelia calling her one. And what is it with those feathers?”
I look up at the ceiling, as if I’m thinking about what to tell Marge. Giving her my best smile, I say, “It’s like this, Marge. She’s the local talent, happened to be on the scene. Val has an interest in her from some previous encounter but doesn’t want her to be an agent. Amelia’s made her a temporary agent.” That’ll set Marge against Sanderson, right there.
“And the feathers?”
“All Amelia could tell me about the feathers is that they’re rare.”
Marge considered the matter a bit before leaning forward on the table. Looking me straight in the eye, she said, “You don’t have any necromantic talent, do you, Harry?”
“Not a trace.”
“Hmmm. You should see those feathers the way I see them. Those things have extensions into the realm of the dead. She managed to get a ghost from a victim?”
“Twice, even. I saw it the second time myself.”
“Damn, I would like to have been there.” Marge looks off to the side, drumming her fingers on the table, a nervous habit of hers. “Maybe she can raise one of the new victims. Just looking at those feathers, I’ve got an idea about why she can do it, and I’d like to see her prove it.” She looks at me. I have nothing to offer, so she goes back to staring off into space and drumming her fingers. “I’d really like to know why Val didn’t snatch her up.” She looks back at me again. “She didn’t give a first name. You know what it is?”
“It’s Persephone,” I tell her. And with malice aforethought, I add, “But you can call her Seffie.”
“Okay.” Marge stands up. I stand up with her. “Let’s go find these witnesses. Any idea of where they’d be, Harry?”
There’s some advantage to having been here for some time: Marge has to defer to my superior knowledge. No doubt both witnesses live in the whore’s wing of the motel. So I say to Marge, “I have reason to think at least one of them stays in this place. Let’s go to the front desk and ask.” And as we pass it on the way to the desk, I’ll point out the whore’s wing as the likeliest place, without explaining why, and impress Marge some more. Maybe I can make a dent in her frosty treatment of me.
Marge and I are settling down at McNaughton’s on the “family restaurant” side for lunch. I’m happy to see the waitresses on this side wear the same revealing outfits as on the sports bar side. And in fact at least one of the waitresses is the same: it’s the tall, raven-haired beauty I saw two days ago over in the sports bar. A push-up bra looks so wonderful on her. As luck would have it, she’s waiting on our table. And still looks interested in me. I get her name off the name tag this time: Sue. Sue, Sue, I’d like to do you.
Marge sees, and gives me a sour eye. “Thanks for telling the waitress that we’re co-workers. I would not want anyone to think I’m your lover, particular when she’s obviously trying out for the position herself.”
I smile. I can afford to. “With those looks and figure, can you blame me?”
Marge looks over at Sue’s backside as she walks toward the bar. “No.” She turns to look back at me. “But I can wonder at her taste in men.”
Marge’s joke just glances off of me. “Stuff it, Marge. You’re just sore because you couldn’t get anything out of the witness.” Donna, the whore who’d been with the first victim when she picked up the murderer, had no memory of the event at all.
Marge makes a face. “What kind of demon takes the trouble to completely remove memories of itself?” She looks about. “You said the sheriff would come by to help us find the other sex worker?” “Sex worker” is Marge’s euphemism for “whore.”
“Yep, and here he comes now.” I catch MacGregor’s eye as he walks in, and he comes over to our table and slides in beside me. I make the introductions. To my amusement, Marge seems taken by the sheriff, and I give her a wink after he pays her some compliment about her looks. That earns me another “Winter-freeze” stare from Marge.
Sue the waitress brings over the drinks. She smiles at MacGregor, but she gives me an even bigger smile. Though I’m a little surprised when MacGregor invites her to sit down with us. Sue slides in besides Marge, looks over to MacGregor, and asks, “What can I do for you, Mac?”
MacGregor replies, “It’s what you can do for these people, Sue.” When Sue looks mystified, MacGregor asks her, “They haven’t asked you any questions?” Sue shakes her head.
Now we’re all confused. MacGregor’s lost his smile as he looks over to Marge and me. And then his smile comes back to him. “I see,” he says, as he looks back at the waitress. “It was just a coincidence, you being here. Agents Winter and Eberhardt, let me present Sue Fitzpatrick, one of the nicest waitresses McNaughton’s has” and he lowers his voice as he adds, “who also moonlights as Susie the Sadist.”
My dismay must be so obviously that even Marge notices, and breaks out laughing. My next inamorata turns out to be a whore, and a sadistic one at that! What, did she think I was, a prospective john?
I’m so crestfallen I don’t even hear what MacGregor says to Susie the Sadist next. Whatever he said, the whore’s face changes from an uncertain smile to a mask of rage. In one swift move, she grabs the steak knife from the setting in front of her and plunges it into Marge’s chest.
End of chapter seven