Ew. Even the creepy-crawly people didn’t want to hang out with this zombie. The magic holding him must be seriously ugly.
Retrieving the book from under the counter, I rang it up. “The customer is always right.”
Two minutes later, I realized I’d been played. The damn zombie had given me counterfeit money. I didn’t notice right away because of all the dirt, but the whole thing just looked wrong. There was no holographic picture or metallic strip, and the left-hand seal was blue instead of green. The more I looked at it, more discrepancies popped up. The top read “silver certificate” instead of Federal Reserve Bank. What seemed strange to me was that there was something about the zombie’s dollar that made it seem real, despite all the oddities -- like it had its own internal consistency. Which was a strange way to forge money, I thought, though I was certainly no expert.
Covering the bill in grave sludge, on the other hand, was very clever. I hardly wanted to touch the stuff, much less examine it too closely.
I was still comparing the zombie fakes to real bills, when I heard the jingle bells on the door chime.
Glancing up, I saw a cop.
He wasn’t wearing a uniform, no shiny badge hung off a Sam Brown belt, but I could tell. He wore a trench coat, a button-down shirt, black tie, slacks, dress shoes. Nothing flashy -- no earring, no necklace, not even a wedding ring. Though, for some reason, I had the impression gold would look good against his warm, brown skin. Inky black hair was clipped short over his ears. He looked clean, respectable -- normal. That was the big give-away. Nobody dressed that mundane walked into an occult bookstore.
So with a squint, I checked out his aura. He held it close to himself like a gambler not wanting to show his hand. The color was pure gold.
Whoa. This cop was psychic.
Even my best friend Izzy, who was a fairly strong, if latent psychic, only had flashes of gold in her aura. I’d never met anyone with an aura so pure, so magical. If he hadn’t had the purposeful stride, the firm set in the jaw, and the intense so-blue-they-were-almost-gray eyes that caught mine and wouldn’t let go, I might have reassessed my opinion that he was a cop.
“Good timing,” I told him. I mean, wow -- it had been less than ten minutes since the zombie scammed me. If he hurried, he might still be able to catch the guy.
“Dude,” I said, impressed. He knew my name, and full-blown peek-in-your-mind-and-know-what-you’re-thinking stuff was a one-in-a-million talent.
Normally cops weren’t my favorite people -- mostly because my interaction with them has typically involved apologizing for hosting a rambunctious party or jaywalking. However, being a telepathic cop was really using your powers for good. I mean, he could be out in Vegas making a mint hustling poker, but instead here he was tracking down zombie counterfeiters. “Wicked cool,” I said.
His jaw clenched, and he frowned at the tarot display I’d spent all morning rearranging. I felt a flush embarrassment. Ugh, I probably made him feel like an exhibit on display at a zoo, acting so impressed with his powers like that.
He cleared his throat and squinted at me Clint Eastwood style. “Are you Garnet Lacey?”
I shot him a quizzical sidelong glance. Wasn’t he already reading my mind? Maybe he wasn’t used to having his powers so easily accepted. He should know that of all places to show off, an occult bookstore was an easy “A.” To spare him further discomfort, however, I got down to business. I held up the bill to show him. “Can you believe the nerve? This doesn’t even remotely look real.”
He peered distractedly at the dollar in question. I seem to have derailed him in some way. So much for the attention-span of Madison’s finest.
“I’m investigating a murder,” he said, pulling out one of those flip wallets you see in movies about cops and flashing me an ID. Except instead of a detective’s gold badge like I expected, instead it had a photo on one side and a seal on the other with the acronym FBI in big, blue letters. “Special Agent Gabriel Dominguez,” he said by way of introduction.
Right. Counterfeiting is a federal crime. Then something clicked. “Wait,” I said. “Did you say murder?”
Oh. The zombie. I shook my head, “Yeah, poor kid.”
I put the bill down on the mud streaked counter. I absently rubbed at the smears of dirt on the glass wondering if I should tell Special Agent Dominguez that the dead guy he was looking for had just left.
I gave Dominguez another looking over. Being psychic didn’t guarantee he’d had run-ins with the occult underworld. His eyes hadn’t lingered overlong at the silver “L” in Theban script that hung in the space between my breasts, and he hadn’t startled the way some sensitives did when they felt the dark presence of the Goddess Lilith behind my eyes.
In fact, sadly, Dominguez looked pretty square. I mean, sure, it was a kind of hottie “Twern’t nuthin’, ma’am” Lone Ranger kind of square, but he still seemed like the sort who might choke if I started casually mentioning reanimated corpses.
I double-checked his aura. This time I noticed flashes of midnight blue, which gave him a very calm, very Zen spirit. He’d definitely be the man to watch your back in a fight. I bet the guys at Quantico or wherever found him very steadfast and trustworthy. No Spooky Fox Mulder. This guy was a Scully, through and through.
Hell, he might not even know how psychic he was. He might just think he had extremely keen powers of observation or imagine himself intuitive about human nature. Then again, if he was reading my mind right now, he knew. I looked up at him and thought really hard: zombie went that‘a way.
He frowned at me. I had the sense from the way his lips pressed together that he was getting exasperated. It wasn’t the look of someone who was merely annoyed that I just shouted into their head; he had that why-can’t-we-communicate-in-English look I’ve seen when I try to explain the difference between horary and humanistic astrology to someone who simply wanted to know what sign they were.
I began to suspect that my dear agent Dominguez was blocked. Some traumatic event in his life had caused him to completely ignore his abilities. I could mentally shout all I wanted. He’d never listen me.
So, I tested him. I imagined myself leaning across the counter and giving him a long, passionate kiss on the lips. Then, I ran imaginary fingers through his short-cropped black hair, feeling the sharp stubble on the back of his neck.
He scratched behind his ear. “Um, several ‘guys,’ actually. More than one,” he said as if correcting me, meeting my eyes, but only just barely. “I’m investigating the murder of six dead priests.”
I was so pleased to have gotten a reaction from him that it took me a second to parse what he’d just said. Then, it didn’t make any sense. “Zombie priests? No way was that kid a priest. Seminary student, maybe in a stretch--if they have a hockey program, but no way was he old enough to be a priest.”
Special Agent Dominguez looked at me like I had gone completely insane. There was a crack in his hard-core cop persona, when a tiny smile played at the edge of his lips. “Did you just say ‘zombie’?”
I hadn’t meant to. I knew this would happen. Either people choked or they laughed at me when I mentioned the color of their auras or noted that they might be feeling a bit clumsy because Mercury had just gone retrograde.
I guessed I should be grateful that Dominguez seemed to have put me into the “she’s amusing” category. At least that attitude could work toward “weird, but compelling” or “cute, if a bit odd.” The people who choked or snorted various beverages out their noses usually couldn’t even be convinced of my entertainment value. Often they felt obliged to try to “correct” my worldview by imposing their own. I didn’t have a lot of patience for that. Besides, sharing my body with the Goddess Lilith on a regular basis made me feel pretty superior about the validity of my claims. I knew magic was real. How many other people had had their faith so profoundly proven to them? When I called, a Goddess answered.
Still, being the resident weirdo isn’t always the first impression I want to make with people like Agent Dominguez. I don’t know. Maybe it’s the whole hidden shoulder holster appeal, but just once I’d love to have a cop look at me and say, “Which way did you say the zombie went, ma’am?” Instead of giving me that did-you-get-a-load-of-her smirk.
And, dang it, Dominguez was kind of cute for a mundane. I shouldn’t be looking (not to mention mentally kissing), since I have a boyfriend. But, well, I’m a sucker for a man with broad shoulders and a slender waist, and all I can say is that this cop was not the sitting-around-the-donut-shop kind of guy.
Plus, he was a psychic, even if he didn’t know it. He was one of us. He shouldn’t have still been grinning at me like that.
“What?” I asked a little belligerently, since I could feel a blush heating up under his stare. “Like you’ve never heard of zombies?”
“You’re kidding, right? You’re kind of taking all this stuff”--he waved at the crystal balls and magic wands in the display case--“a bit too seriously, aren’t you?”
“Yeah. Ha. Ha.” I didn’t want to get into all the reasons I did with the Special Agent, so I reached under the counter for the special cleanser I’d cooked up for my post-dead things encounters. It was part moon-charged rose essence, part holy water, with a dash or two of clove oil. I’d put the concoction in a spritzer bottle on which I’d marked “necromancy zapper” with a black Sharpie. It was good stuff. It not only cleaned up any kind of spill (outside of blood) and magically purified the place, but it also smelled like pumpkin pie. I sprayed it liberally all over the muddy counter.
I wasn’t really aiming for him, but I wasn’t terribly disappointed when I splashed the Special Agent’s sleeve and made him jump back.
“Hey, watch it,” he said. Then, using those psychic powers of his, the Special Agent deduced that it was a good time to get back on subject. “Actually, I’m looking for a gal, not a guy. Have you seen this woman?”
I was expecting to get my first glimpse at this voodoo sorcerer who’d been cooking up all these zombies I’d seen lately, so I leaned in curiously as the agent pulled a photo out of his wallet. He flipped it over, and I found my knuckles tightening around the one-hundred percent recycled paper towel I held in both hands. I gaped in horror.
It was me.
The photo was some kind of digital reprint from my driver’s license, and it was a couple of years old, but it was me.
I wasn’t surprised Dominguez hadn’t recognized me; I barely recognized myself. The photograph he laid down on a dry spot on the counter showed a blond Norwegian woman in an India-print dress. She looked innocent and sweet.
I did not. In fact, I’d been so grouchy after the Sebastian/Parrish fiasco this morning that I’d decided to play up the whole walking dead look. I’d powdered my face a shade paler than normal, gone blood red on the lipstick, and gelled my dyed-black pixie haircut into spikes. So much eyeliner and mascara surrounded my eyes that they looked sunken and bruised. When I’d left Sebastian’s house this morning, I borrowed his best movie-vampire gear -- a white poet shirt, black leather pants (mine, from a previous sleepover), and a velvet great coat.
More distinctly, the woman in the photo had blue eyes so pale they had almost been washed out by the reflection of the camera’s flash. Mine were purple -- a deep, rich, unusual shade, like the inner tongue of a bearded iris. The new color was a magical scar left over from the horrible Halloween night a year ago when I had called down the Goddess Lilith and ended up fleeing Minneapolis after I dumped the bodies of six Vatican assassins into the lake inside Lakewood Cemetery.
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