What’s the best way to keep Vatican witch hunters off your scent? Dress to kill.
After clasping the last silver skull buckle on my knee-high, black-leather, ass-whupping boots, I straightened my velvet miniskirt. The mini tended to ride up my thighs thanks to the sparkly spider-web hose. I glanced out the bathroom door toward my closet, contemplating a change into a leather skirt. But, I might be pushing the dress code already with scandalous hemline, and as store manager I really needed to provide a good example for my co-workers. Or, as I liked to refer to them, my minions.
To finish off the look, I applied a layer of Egyptian kohl around my eyes. Regarding the result in the mirror, I smiled: total Goth chick. No one would take me seriously as a Witch dressed like this. A Vatican killer would take one look at the large, silver-plated ankh bouncing off the too-tight décolletage of my fanged Hello Kitty shirt and think: poseur.
Exactly what I wanted.
Yeah, I’d be all right, as long as no one looked in my eyes long enough to see Her lurking inside. Trouble was, my eyes tended to attract attention. I’ve had customers gasp when they looked into my eyes. Not a lot of people have purple eyes. Just me and Liz Taylor. And I think mine are prettier. But, really, I think I garner the stunned reaction because, on some instinctual level, people recognize Her, the Goddess inside me.
I’ve tried covering the color with tinted contacts -- blue, brown, even black -- but the Goddess always shines through. She wants me to have purple eyes, so purple eyes I have.
I checked my wallet for cash. My driver’s license still said boring Minnesota-Norwegian blue; the picture showed a woman with shoulder-length blond hair, not a dyed-black pixie cut. The only thing accurate was my name: Garnet Lacey.
I needed to get to the DMV one of these days. I’d never tested for a Wisconsin license, even though I think I was legally required to do that within thirty days of moving. I’d left Minneapolis almost eight months ago now. The license was a last tie, and though it was a trivial one, my subconscious seemed reluctant to break it.
Just that quick glance at my old self brought back the nightmare night I found my coven dead. I could feel the Goddess stirring, roused by memories. Bile rose in the back of my throat. The hand holding my driver’s license trembled with rage and grief. A dark curtain began to descend in front of my eyes as I felt Her rising.
It always started with a cramp, shuddering across my abdomen. Then came the rush. Heat, like fire, pulsed upward from between my legs. My thighs quivered. With each heartbeat the heat rose, higher, higher, spreading along my stomach, up my rib cage. My body shook with pleasure.
It felt so good, but I had to stop Her. If She brought me to the crescendo, I would no longer be in control. And what I would destroy, because destroy She always did, I wouldn’t know until I came to in time to pick up the pieces or bury the bodies.
My fingertips tingled with unreleased power. In the mirror, I saw Her. My eyes had changed once again. My pupils darkened to the blood red of the poisonous fruit of the nightshade.
She was coming.
Pitching myself forward, I slammed down hard on my knees. The pain brought me back into focus.
I smacked my head against the sink as hard as I could stand, and whispered, “There is nothing here for you. There is nothing here for you.” She had to know it was true. The Vatican agents were gone. They were just a memory. The only thing to kill in the house were some potted herbs and my cat. This would NOT satisfy Lilith. Not by half.
Perhaps she understood me, or maybe she sensed that the danger was long gone and that her need would not be satiated. She left. I felt the heat extinguish like someone had thrown cold water on a roaring flame.
My body ached. Not unpleasantly, but definitely... unsatisfactorily. My legs felt rubbery, and my heart pounded in my eardrums.
I knelt there on the bathroom floor, eyes closed, and concentrated on getting my breathing back to normal. I counted to six, breathed in. Counted again, and breathed out. I did this for several breaths until I could no longer feel a banging in my chest with every heartbeat.
When I opened my eyes, the driver’s license was a melted blob in my hand. Blue flames danced for a moment in the center of my palm, then died. I scraped off the remains of the plastic card on the rim of the wastepaper basket.
There was a little blister in the center of my palm where the license had been. Taking a final deep breath, I lay my head on the cool porcelain rim of the claw foot tub. She was so near the surface these days, it frightened me. Thankfully I had no roommates to witness my strange behavior... or for Her to –- no, that didn’t bear thinking about. I lived alone not by choice, but by necessity.
Uncurling my now numb legs, I noticed I’d managed to rip the knee of my black lace pantyhose. Damn. They cost me twenty bucks. Ah, well, the torn look added to the whole Goth ensemble.
As I got up to fetch my clear nail polish from the medicine cabinet to stop the run before it got any worse, Barney made her usual dramatic entrance. The door flew open as she put her weight against it, and then she casually paraded in to sniff disdainfully at her water bowl. Barney was a gray, striped fluff-ball of a Maine Coon. She blinked her yellow cat eyes at me and then sneezed. Barney was allergic to magic.
Or at least she pretended to be.
Rubbing her nose with her paw, she gave another dramatic, yet somehow dainty sneeze. She was telling me she didn’t approve.
“As if I had any choice, Ms. Puss,” I said to her, while scratching behind her ears.
A slow blink told me she was skeptical, and then, as if bored of the whole conversation, she hopped up onto the toilet lid and began fiercely cleaning herself.
Barney was my familiar.
Most people thought they understood what their cats said with all their little movements, but I really did know. Before, when I used my magic more freely, Barney had a voice. I heard her talking in my head. Yeah, the line between magic and insanity was pretty thin. I knew that. That’s part of why I quit. I was a Witch no more. I’d gone cold turkey. Never touched the stuff. Nope. No exceptions.
I’d had to. The Goddess fed on magic. The more I used it, the closer to the surface She came. What bothered me now was that I hadn’t cast a spell in six months. I’d been feeling pretty good about myself. Yet, there She was at the slightest provocation.
A petite, yet noticeable sneeze broke my reverie.
“Yeah, okay. Look, I’m trying to quit. Everything,” I said, as I finished daubing at the torn edge of my hose. Although I still kept up with astrology. That couldn’t count as real magic, surely. Returning the bottle to its spot in the cabinet, I added, “It’s not that easy. I’d like to see you try.”
Barney yawned, her pink tongue curling in an almost complete circle inside her wide-open mouth.
“So you say,” I told her, giving her another fond scratch, “but you wouldn’t last a week.”
She snorted. Leaping off the toilet seat, she padded delicately out the door. I knew where she was headed: the kitchen. I fed her, then dutifully wolfed down a bowl of flax flakes while Barney watched over me. I gulped down coffee, nearly scalding my tongue. Pouring the remains of the pot of coffee into a thermos, I tucked it into my backpack. I double-checked the contents of my bag: Kleenex, black lipstick, bottled water, bike lock, and the latest issue of Mountain Astrologer to read at my lunch break.
I felt along the rim of the canvas until I found the hidden compartment. After opening it up, I methodically recounted the two thousand dollars in cash I kept there. It wasn’t nearly enough if I had to run again, but it was a better start than I’d had. I replaced the money.
Barney mewed. I mussed the fur on the top of her head. “I’d come back for you, I promise.”
She rippled her back and stalked off to her sunny spot among the herbs I had growing in the tower room adjacent to the kitchen. I put my bowl in the sink with the other dirty dishes I promised myself I’d clean soon.
Before closing the compartment, I carefully removed Jasmine’s prayer necklace. Jasmine and I had gone to college together. I’d talked her into joining the coven even though she’d always said she enjoyed the craft part of “the Craft” more than the magic. The prayer necklace was proof. It was a piece of art. Jasmine had twisted the silver wire herself and strung mother of pearl and amethyst beads in groups of three. I held the pieces in my hand.
“The circle is open, but unbroken,” I whispered. We’d ended each ritual that way. Except this time it wasn’t true. When the Vatican agents attacked Jasmine, a jump ring had snapped and the circle was broken.
Reverently, I tucked the necklace back into the compartment. There was one other item I kept hidden, but I refused to look at it: a blood-covered crucifix. I’d torn it from the body of a Vatican agent. Or rather, the Goddess had.
With a tremor that clenched my gut, I checked my watch. I was running late for work. I couldn’t allow myself to be late. Not ever again.
I live on the upper floor of a creaky Victorian. Locking the door behind me, I headed down the stairs. The stairwell and a narrow hallway were the only common area in the house. This place had seen its share of students since it was less than a mile from campus, and nowhere did it show more than in these spaces. Relentless grunge and wear had given the wood a dark patina. The stair runner, which might have been red at some point in its life, had faded to a dull brown. A big crack ran down the center of the glass of the window at the landing. Original plaster clung tenaciously to hundred year-old lathe.
Despite mistreatment, it was still a grand old house. A chandelier with tulip shades hung on a brass chain fastened to a tin medallion. The banister, though dinged and nicked, still had all of its spindles, and had been built at a slight curve, which gave it a sweeping effect. Dusty wainscoting lined the walls.
I grabbed my mountain bike from its spot in the hall and headed out. It was late May, and the days were finally starting to be consistently warm. Spring-green buds tipped the branches of the trees. From under piles of leaves and mulch, fiddleheads and columbine struggled toward the light. Though the air held a nip, the sun glittered across the lake. Seagulls soared lazily overhead.
I pushed myself hard, pumping my legs the whole way. I was covered in a light sweat by the time I hit State Street.
State Street was Madison’s main tourist destination. The white marble State Capitol building anchored the “top” of the pedestrian mall; the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s campus occupied the “bottom.” The several intervening blocks held hat boutiques, novelty shops, Nepali restaurants, sports bars, artisan clothiers, the world’s only toilet paper museum, and Mercury Crossing, where I worked. After locking my bike in the back alley, I checked my watch. Damn. Despite my best efforts, I was five minutes late. An irrational shiver of fear fluttered in my stomach as I opened the door.
My shoulders relaxed the second I smelled the incense. It was sweet with a touch of spice and smelled like every magic shop from here to Poughkeepsie.
Crystal wind chimes decorated with tourmaline, amethyst, and other semi-precious stones hung from the ceiling. I made my way past crowded aisles crammed with books and tarot cards to the checkout counter in the center of the shop, which was surrounded by display cases full of wands, jade Buddhas, necklaces, gazing globes, and Goddess jewelry of every kind.
I loved this place. It felt like home to me.
Probably, if I wanted to avoid magic, I should work at the deli two blocks down. One thing they always told people in recovery from drugs and alcohol was to stay away from old companions, old places, and old things.
I told myself working here was all part of my “cover.” No self-respecting true Witch would come within a mile of this New Age, warlock-wannabe haven. Well, okay, we would, but we’d come in really early or over our lunch breaks. There just aren’t enough places like this for Witches to be too picky.
But, we sold black, hooded cloaks for crying out loud! Not only that, one of our big sellers was the dashboard glow-in-the-dark parking space goddess to protect the owner from meter maids. We had computer gargoyles. We carried the entire line of “How to be a Teenage Witch” books.
Then there was William, or was it Wolfsbane this week? William/Wolfsbane had intense hazel eyes and the typical gaunt, gawky college-freshman build. His hair matched his eyes, which is to say it was light brown with amber and green highlights. This week his interest appeared to be Irish magic. He had Celtic knotwork everywhere – earring, bracelet, necklace, and even his t-shirt showed two dragons intertwined. I swore that boy blew his entire salary here at the shop, since he had a new interest and a new wardrobe every two weeks.
William was what the Belief.net quizzes would determine to be “a sincere seeker.” A Libra with a Pisces Rising, he jumped from one cause to another with both feet. Indecisive yet polite to a fault, I had to make sure he wasn’t in charge when the sales people came through because he couldn’t say no to anyone, much less make a firm decision.
“Hey, guy,” I said cautiously, afraid he might have changed his name again.
William looked up from the book his nose had been pressed into and gave me a worried look. “Are you okay?”
“I overslept.” It was easier to lie than to say I had to fight down a Goddess who wanted to kill-them, kill-them-all.
“It happens,” William said, not noticing my shift in mood or choosing to ignore it. “Anyway, it was spooky. Is there some kind of lateness planet transiting your getting-to-work-on-time house?” He teased with a fond smile, but his eyes held a touch of seriousness. William counted on me for astrological tidbits. “Are the planets doing something weird or what? Today feels all retrograde to me.”
That’s when it hit me. I hadn’t progressed my natal chart to see what would happen today. I’d gotten in the habit of doing it every morning during breakfast. I had all the books I needed in the kitchen shelved next to my cookbooks and recipe cards. “Well,” I said, “judging by my morning, I’d guess Mars went retrograde.”
I stowed my bag behind the counter and grabbed my handy yearly ephemeris. After finding the month, I scanned the columns for today’s date. Mars was direct, it appeared, but not much else. Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto were all retrograde. Retrograde in astronomical terms means that a planet appears to be moving backwards in the sky from the vantage point of the earth. It had something to do with orbital velocities. I didn’t really know all the science. What I did know was that astrologically, it was bad news – screwed up, blocked energy.
Usually, I didn’t put much stock in outer planets. Anything past Jupiter moved too slowly to really affect daily life. When a bunch of planets ganged up like that, well... seemed pretty ominous to me.
“Well?” William asked. He crouched beside me, peering intently at the rows of numbers. “What does it say?”
“I’m not really sure,” I admitted, standing back up. William followed my motion like a nervous shadow. “Neptune retrograde in a natal chart is all about self-deception and mysterious circumstances. Pluto means secrets and other people’s money. So,” I added with a laugh, “we could lose out on an inheritance and not even know it.”
William chuckled, but I could tell I’d worried him. He adjusted the counter display of polished gemstones. “Anything else?”
“Yeah,” I said. I moved out from behind the counter to unlock the door. “Jupiter’s moving backwards too. In a birth chart, I’d say you’d be a fundamentalist in your religious outlook. What it means about today, I haven’t a clue. Maybe we can look it up in one of the books,” I gestured in the direction of the astrology section.
When I got to the door, I jumped. To my surprise, there were two people waiting for us to open. I let them in with a smile. Inwardly, I groaned. Looked like it was going to be a busy day.
And it was. William and I spent the rest of the day rushed off our feet. We never did have the time to find out what it meant that Jupiter had gone retrograde.
I don’t know what it is about spring. Maybe the same natural force that draws plants from the ground brings out the New Age tendencies in Midwestern housewives. I must have sold a zillion leather bound diaries and witchcraft starter kits today.
To be fair, it was a new season, a new semester. Everyone was in the mood for starting fresh. Though I really should have been closing up, I found myself scanning the Burpee catalogue that came in the mail, wondering if we should try selling some of the more exotic herb seedlings.
William’s girlfriend had picked him up as the shift ended. There was something about her that made me wary. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but... well, I was probably being silly. William always provoked my latent maternal instincts. He seemed in need of protection. Plus, I’d been working here for several months and she’d never once come in and introduced herself. She always just waited for him in the car. I found that odd.
The tills were cashed out and the lights dimmed. In fact, I’d have sworn I’d locked the door until I heard the telltale jangle of bells.
“I need mandrake, a whole root,” a masculine voice called out from the doorway. “Harvested by new moon. Best if from a crossroads.”
I laughed. “Why not just ask for it grown under a gallows?”
“My god, yes. Do you have it?”
“No.” I was being sarcastic, anyway. I was about to explain to this dimwit that there hadn’t been a public hanging in America for several decades now, when I found myself struck dumb. Glancing up from my catalog, I gazed into the most gorgeous brown eyes I’d ever seen.
I mean, they were really beautiful. Besides being almost perfectly almond shaped, his eyes had those long, thick lashes usually reserved for very young boys.
Eyes aren’t usually the first things I notice on a man. Though I hate to admit it, normally, what I check out is “the ratio.” That is to say, shoulder to waist. I like that triangular shape of broad to narrow.
This man had it. In fact, I’d say his body spelled out a perfect “T,” for tall, tough, and tasty.
Despite a slight, cultured British accent, he dressed like a hoodlum. He wore a leather jacket, broken-in blue jeans and a white t-shirt just tight enough that it hinted at a hard working body underneath. His long, black hair was pulled back into a loose ponytail at the nape of his neck. And, just to drive me absolutely wild, a touch of stubble dotted a chiseled jaw. I hate that. Pretty men make me stupid. Suddenly, all I could think about was stroking my finger along his high cheekbones down to the hollow of his throat.
I pulled myself away from that image only to get lost in those damn eyes again. They were the color of polished oak in sunlight. In fact, they had that kind of captivating, enchanting, inner glow that I’d come to associate with the dead, or rather, undead.
“Well, can you get it?” he asked insistently.
“What?” I asked, still staring stupidly.
“Uhm, probably,” I said.
I leaned a little over the counter trying to smell him. I caught a whiff of motorcycle exhaust and leather. I couldn’t detect the scent of human sweat, which unnerved me a bit. So I let my eyes unfocus and scanned for an aura. Just as I suspected: none. Not even that faint purple glimmer you get from a well-made zombie. He was definitely a dead man walking.
Well, today just got a lot more interesting.
“Could you check?” he asked.
“On what?” I asked, thinking about his aura, or rather, lack thereof.
“On the mandrake.” He backed up a step, as if he thought my behavior strange.
I wanted to point out that he was the dead guy standing around in my store, but I didn’t. “Uhm,” I stalled as I tried to collect my thoughts. “There is this place that does hand-harvesting by moon phases. New Moon Wimmin’s Herb Collective or something like that. I think I have them bookmarked on the computer. They might grow mandrake in their greenhouse. I mean, I assume you want the real deal, not American mandrake.” American mandrake was sometimes called May Apple. I had some of that under my pine tree. It was pretty common throughout Canada and the East Coast, though I’d cultivated it purposely.
“I need atropa mandragora.” He spoke the Latin perfectly and without even the tiniest of hesitation. When he was alive, this man had either been a serious herbalist or a Church scholar.
“Yeah, I figured,” I said as I searched the Collective’s website. “Looks like they have mandrake root harvested by new moon. I can order you one or however many you want, but if you need it in a hurry, it looks like it’s going to cost you.”
He didn’t even ask how much, he just pulled out his wallet. The fold was crammed with bills of every denomination. I was relieved to see cash. I didn’t really want to take credit card information from a dead guy. Just my luck, he’d have been murdered, and I’d become a suspect. No cop in the world would believe me if I said, “Oh, yeah, he came in two days after he died and just gave me his account information. Honest.” I’d totally look like I was in league with whoever killed him.
“How soon can they get it here?”
I filled out the online form, pressed enter, and waited for the mailing information options to appear on the screen. “Looks like they can promise two to three business days.”
“Fuck me,” he swore. While I was thinking, yes, I’d like to, he said. “I really needed it today.”
“We have mandrake powder,” I offered. When he shook his head, I pointed to the herbal section of the bookshelf. “You could see if there’s a substitution.” Though probably not for something involving mandrake. That was kind of a specialty herb, and, frankly, a bit out most tree-hugging Witches’ league.
He gave a sad little laugh like he thought I was the biggest idiot on the planet.
“Should I order this?” I asked, pointing to the screen. “It’s going to be a hundred and fifty bucks.”
He rubbed his chin as he considered his options. His gestures all seemed pretty normal for a dead guy. He was either so recently dead that it hadn’t sunk in yet, or he’d been dead so long he’d gotten used to it.
My next thought would normally have been: vampire. Problem was, the sun was still high in the sky. On Mondays, we were only open until six. I gave a meaningful glance at the light shining though the windows, “Aren’t you up a little early?”
“Uhm, I’ll need a name and address for the order form. You know, and a number where I can reach you when it comes in.” He seemed so genuinely startled by my question that I decided to change tactics.
Maybe this guy didn’t know he was dead.
He gave me another slightly nervous look. Then he pulled a business card out of the inside pocket of his jacket. The buckles jangled. I loved that sound. He laid the business card on the glass counter. I got a glance at his fingernails. Short and trimmed, not broken or bleeding -- but there was something dark, like dirt, encrusted under a few nails. I’d have wondered if he recently clawed his way out of a grave, but with the funerary regulations of concrete and steel vaults, few people could do that any more.
Unless someone had hurriedly buried him in a shallow grave.
“Order it,” he said finally. “I don’t think I have any other choice.”
The name on the card said Sebastian Von Traum, herbalist. On the back was a local address, email, website, and phone numbers. I keyed all the information in. Though I could have had them send it directly to his home address, I did a bad thing. I wanted to see him again, so I entered the store’s address instead. Feeling a tiny bit guilty, I said, “I’ll call you the instant it comes in.”
As I pressed the order button, Sebastian let out a tiny, sad sigh that almost broke my heart. Those beautiful eyes held the look of a man who knew his time on earth was limited. I felt like the cad who’d signed his death certificate by telling him I couldn’t get the root today.
“Look,” I said. “I’ll give them a call tomorrow and explain the situation. Maybe we can arrange something so you can get it sooner.”
Of course, I had no idea what I’d say to them. “Hey, could you rush it because this very sweet reanimated corpse really, really needs mandrake or I think he might suffer final death,” sounded a little strange, even if it might be true.
“That’s brilliant. Thanks.” Sebastian flashed one of those gorgeous smiles that usually only belongs to movie stars. I found myself grinning back foolishly, even while I scanned for fangs. His canines were long, but the smile was gone so quickly I couldn’t decide if they were sharper than average.
I hated to say it, but I had to. “I can’t promise anything. What are you going to do if we can’t get it?”
He shrugged. “I guess I’ll have to look into those substitutions.”
The tone in his voice made it clear he didn’t believe anything else would work. I wanted desperately to see that smile again, so I said, “Well, if I can’t get you the root, I could see if I could score you a hand of glory. Those are always good in reanimation spells.” Personally, I found the whole concept of the hand of glory creepy as sin. They were wax-dipped severed hands –- real hands, like, that were once on living people -- usually from a murderer, the fingers of which the practitioner would light like a candle. “Ooh! Or maybe some graveyard dust. I think I have a vial of that under the counter.”
“No thank you. I have all that already, though I prefer grave mold myself,” Sebastian said.
It took me a moment to realize he was joking. The broad smile tipped me off.
“Oh, yeah,” I said lamely, smiling back. “Handy.” I instantly thought of the hand of glory after saying that. “Oh, ick! No pun intended.”
He laughed. Sebastian had one of those hearty, open laughs that puts a person instantly at ease. A strange quality for a dead guy, but even so, I found myself laughing along. I mean, if the guy were a vampire I could chalk his charming manner up to glamour, their unearthly attractiveness. My experience with vampires was that when they laughed it was usually not a good thing. Sort of like when a hit-man chuckles.
No, this was a nice laugh, a damn-you’re-so-fucking-cute-why-the-hell-haven’t-you-asked-me-out-to-coffee-yet? laugh. Too bad he was dead. It was ruining the romance for me.
“Why do you think I need the mandrake for a reanimation spell?” he asked.
I was tempted to point out the obvious, but instead I asked, “Isn’t it called the funeral herb?”
“It is,” Sebastian said, with a hint of surprise in his tone, like he hadn’t expected even such basic knowledge from me. “Though it’s also a laxative.”
I smiled. “Are you telling me you’re desperate for gallows-grown mandrake because you’re constipated?”
“No,” he said, with that infectious chuckle. “I wouldn’t say that.”
“It’s also a narcotic,” I pointed out. “Maybe you’re some kind of mandrake junkie.”
“Maybe I am,” he said with a wouldn’t-you-like-to-know smile.
And, indeed, I did. There were several other things I’d wanted to know, too, like what it would feel like to untie that luxurious looking hair and run it through my fingers.
Vampires tended to have long hair. After all, once cut, it didn’t grow back. The hair follicles being dead and all that made it difficult to be a slave to fashion. Sometimes you could tell how old a vamp was by the style of their hair. I kind of felt sorry for those guys who died in 1789 or whenever and had shaved heads because they wore wigs most of the time. Though the bald tough-guy look was coming back, it was often hard for a former fop to pull off.
Sebastian didn’t look like he’d been a fop. Oh, no, not with THAT body.
I wondered when Sebastian had died. I really, really wanted to ask, but it seemed so rude, particularly since he clearly didn’t want to talk about it. Between my sun obsession and the reanimation bit, I’d given him several opportunities to come out, as it were. I sighed. Too bad he didn’t seem as into me as I was him.
I picked up his card and put it beside the register. Letting my eyes feast on his masculine beauty one last time, I was about to open my mouth to regretfully kick him out of the store so I could close up when he read my mind.
“You look hungry,” he said. “Can I buy you a pastry or some coffee next door?”
We went out the side door, which connected directly to Holy Grounds, the coffee shop adjacent to Mercury Crossing. I waved at my best friend Izzy who was serving behind the bar, but she was too busy with a customer to see me.
Sebastian chose a table near the window. Though the sun had begun to set, a bright shaft of light shone directly on his seat. I had to bite my lip to hold back a gasp of fear as he sat in it. Despite the evidence to the contrary, I still figured him for a vampire.
I checked his aura again. Yep, still dead.
“Too bright for you?” he asked, apparently mistaking my squint.
“No, I guess it’s all right,” I said, watching for tendrils of smoke snaking up from the top of his head. Nothing, except the usual swirl of dust motes dancing through the air. I sat across from him, scanning his face. His skin had none of the waxen, gray slack of a zombie. In fact, if anything he looked a bit tanned.
Of course, he derailed my investigation completely by taking off his jacket. The muscles on his arms couldn’t be called anything other than sculpted. When he was alive he’d worked out, or he’d worked hard, but no matter which it was, it’d produced magnificent results. “What did you do?” I asked. “I mean, I don’t imagine you made your living as an herbalist.”
“I’m a mechanic these days. I work down at Jensen’s Service Station near Vilas.”
A day job. Present tense. This poor man doesn’t know he’s dead. “Wow.”
He shrugged. The slight, unconcerned lift of his shoulders was such a normal-guy, mundane gesture, it seemed wrong to me. The dead should be stiff, or at least stately. “It’s a job. I like working on the classic cars. These new ones with their computers cheese me off.”
“Cars should run on fire, water, and air. It’s alchemical. Magic. Computers interfere with the elemental nature of engines, as far as I’m concerned.”
“Huh,” was all I could think to say; I was totally in love with the man at that moment.
“So, what can I get you?” he asked, standing up.
Now he was offering to pay? A mystical car mechanic and a gentleman... he could have me on this table right now, even with the whole dead thing. “I like the honey latte,” I said. “And if they have a croissant or something like that?”
“Right. Coming up.”
Because the coffeehouse and the magic shop had once been jointly owned, they had a similar flavor. The Holy Grounds had gone for New Age couture. Lush oil paintings of gods and goddesses hung on exposed brick walls. Each table had a candle nestled in a glass holder that was surrounded by five vaguely feminine iron figures connected in a circle. Across from me, in the space by the front door, hung a large poster of the chart I’d cast for the business using the date it opened. Brightly colored construction paper stars hung from thin strings in front of the window, and moon-shaped lights snaked around the bookshelf in the back near the comfortable couches and overstuffed chairs. A group of Renaissance Festival types dressed in peasant shirts and woolen cloaks sat there, drumming on borhans and dumbeks softly.
I watched as Izzy leaned in very close to take Sebastian’s order. Izzy, nee Isadora Penn, was undeniably beautiful. Her skin was several shades darker than the mocha lattes she served, but it was just as creamy and smooth. She kept her tight curls clipped close to her head, and her profile always reminded me of that famous bust of Nefertitti. If Sebastian were like every other red-blooded man I knew, it would be difficult for him not to notice her.
Yet somehow, though she flirted outrageously throughout the entire transaction, he seemed uninterested. In fact, when he paid, he pointed to where I was sitting. Izzy’s eyes searched the room jealously, but brightened when she saw me. She gave me a wave, and, when Sebastian wasn’t looking, a big thumbs up. I returned Izzy’s smile.
As Sebastian walked past a long, narrow mirror hanging above the booths, I found myself relieved to see his reflection. Then I chided myself. Of course he had a one. Everything does. I never understood how the storybook vampires could make their clothes disappear as well. I mean, shouldn’t you still see whatever they were wearing?
I returned my attention to watching Sebastian make his way back to our table. I grinned; even his walk was sexy. Some men stomp across a room, but Sebastian had such grace he seemed to glide.
Gliding. That was like floating, and floating wasn’t sexy at all; it was creepy.
I peered at Sebastian’s feet. They touched the ground. His gait had none of that odd tiptoe -glide of a ghost-possessed corpse. Of course, neither was he Chinese, and it was those ghosts who possessed by sliding underneath the soles of their victim’s feet.
Plus, he cast a shadow. Not to mention the fact that a regular ghost would have trouble carrying my latte and the saucer with my croissant on it. Sebastian didn’t. In fact, he slid my food so deftly in front of me that I had to ask, “Were you a waiter once?”
“Oh, more than once,” he said. “I worked my way across several continents waiting tables. It’s a good job to have done because there’s almost always work.”
“True enough,” I agreed. I’d done a stint waitressing while in college.
“Can I ask a small favor?” He looked vaguely sheepish, and I was wondering if he was going to bum some money from me to cover the food and drinks.
“Sure,” I said suspiciously.
“Would you tell me your name?”
“Garnet Lacey,” I said, then instantly regretted it. My stomach twisted in that way it does right after you’ve given the cute stranger you just met at the bar your real home phone number. Oh, yes, dead guy, here, have my True Name. Why don’t I just hand over some fingernails and a lock of hair, too, so you can have complete control over me?
I should have given him my ritual name. Because of the constant threat of Vatican spies infiltrating the coven, it was standard protocol to have a kind of assumed name, one that was used primarily among other Witches. My coven had been strict about it, secrecy had been drilled into me, and here I was exchanging private information with a dead guy I’d only just met. Super, Garnet.
“Well, Garnet.” He smiled that harmless smile I wanted to trust but couldn’t quite. “It’s nice to be officially introduced. My name is Sebastian Von Traum.”
Well, at least he appeared to have returned the favor. If this guy didn’t know magic, he certainly knew the right questions to ask and how to phrase the responses. After all, he didn’t just say: “I’m Sebastian” or “I’m called Sebastian,” he said, “My name is.” It was an offer of trust. Or a happy accident. The glow in those brown eyes made me doubt it was the latter.
“Sebastian is kind of an old-fashioned name,” I said, trying to be sly about sussing out his age. After all, at this point in the conversation it seemed a little gauche to ask him how long he’d been dead.
“It is,” he agreed, glancing out the window at a drunken gaggle of college frat boys in full bar-hopping mode. “I’m named after the saint, no less.”
“I’m not big on Christian saints,” I said. “Which one was he?”
“Praetorian guardsman, pierced by arrows, though apparently that wasn’t what killed him in the end.”
“You’ve lost me.”
Sebastian smiled. At that moment in the conversation – i.e., me having declared my stupidity – I normally would have taken such an expression as condescending. Instead, Sebastian’s grin seemed self-deprecating, almost shy.
“I do that,” he said. Again, on other men, I’d have assumed arrogance, but there was something about the way he said the words that cast them in a softer, kinder tone. “He lived through the arrows. He got beaten to death with a stick. Anyway, do you know what I find truly bizarre? Here’s this poor guy who gets shot with a zillion arrows, and do you know what he becomes? The patron saint of archers. Doesn’t that seem wrong to you?”
“It does,” I admitted with a laugh.
Sebastian took a sip of his drink. He’d bought something dark that came in a big, yellow coffee mug. From here, it smelled like a dark roast of some kind. Most dead things I’d run across so far could drink if they wanted to, even zombies – at first, anyway. So, it didn’t surprise me to find him able to do it. I just wondered at his choices.
“You have the strangest expression on your face right now,” he said to me.
“You’re drinking regular coffee,” I said.
“So I am,” he said. “Though this is organic, shade-grown, fair-trade, and bicycle-delivered.”
Of all the things to spend your money on, I thought. Here this guy is dead and he doesn’t even spring for a fancy latte or a shot of anything. What a waste of precious digestive juices. I mean, I believed in the power of a normal cup of joe, but when you were going out to coffee, a person should go for broke. And, if you’re dead... well, you should really whoop it up.
“Does it offend you?” he asked cautiously.
“No. It’s just... don’t you want something more special?”
“To mark the occasion.” He raised his eyebrows in a way that reminded me that he wasn’t privy to my inner thoughts and I probably sounded like a complete idiot. “I mean, you can make that stuff at home.”
“Ah, but at home I can’t spend three dollars for the privilege.”
“Exactly my point,” I said with a smile.
“You’re a very odd woman, but you have the loveliest smile,” he said. “It attracted me instantly. It’s rather enchanting, actually.”
Like your eyes, I almost said. Instead, I pulled myself away from those amber depths and stared at the napkin I’d been folding into a tiny triangle. “So, uh, Von Traum.... What kind of name is that?”
“Austrian,” he said a bit perfunctorily, as though he’d been asked about it a number of times.
I felt bad not acknowledging his earlier compliment, but I didn’t know what to do about his/our attraction. The fact remained that he was dead. As a doornail. And dating doornails was no fun. Trust me, I tried being with a dead guy once and it was miserable. I found that whole cold skin thing a big turn off in the bedroom. You can only do so many things in a hot bath or shower, and even then the heat didn’t... well, penetrate, if you know what I mean.
I banished that thought with a sip of my latte. The honey and milk tasted sweet on my tongue, and the hint of espresso gave the drink a perfect kick. Izzy sure knew her stuff. I looked up to see her smiling at me from behind the counter.
Meanwhile, Sebastian’s attention had wandered to the street again. Two women walked by, loaded down with shopping bags. One of them wore a dress with the price tag still hanging from the sleeve. I cleared my throat to draw him away from the two laughing women. “I’d have thought you were English from your accent.”
“I was educated in Britain,” he replied distractedly. I got the sense he’d been asked both these questions a lot.
Since I was asking all the traditional getting-to-know-you questions, I might as well go right down the list. “How long have you lived in Madison?”
He sighed. “Since my dreams of becoming a rock star died.”
“No, my best singing is done in the shower,” he said with a smile.
My imagination suddenly flashed to an image of Sebastian naked and wet. I could almost feel my hands sliding easily over slick shoulders and down the flat planes of that broad chest to….
"I moved here from Phoenix a couple of months ago.”
I blinked, banishing my fantasy with a quick shake of the head. “Uhm, so,” I said, wishing we could talk more about what Sebastian did while wet. “What were you doing there?”
“I was an tour guide at the botanical garden.” Before I could ask him more about that, he turned the conversation back to me. “What about you? Have you always lived in Madison?”
I shook my head. “No, I’m a world traveler, like yourself. I must have come three, four, five hundred miles in my entire lifetime. I was born in Finlayson.” He gave me the blank look I often got when I mentioned my hometown. “Minnesota. A speck on the map, really. I left there for college as soon as I could.”
“So, you’re at UW?”
“No, I’m done. I got my degree in Minneapolis.”
He gave me a skeptical look, as though he didn’t think I was old enough to be a college graduate. I was, in point of fact, nearly thirty. It was the clothes; I always got carded when I went Goth.
“If you don’t mind me saying so,” Sebastian said. “Garnet is an unusual name, as well.”
This was the question I got asked all the time. I was the only Garnet anywhere I went, and thus I’d had to endure a lot of playground teasing in my formative years. Though I loved the uniqueness of my name, I’d developed a love/hate relationship with it. Frankly, I always thought Garnet Lacey sounded a bit like a stripper.
I had a pat little story I always told to try to explain the origin of my name. “What can I say? Even though it was the late-seventies, my parents hadn’t given up on flower power. They’d moved to a farm to live off the land – they’re raising organic chickens today. Anyway, they always used to joke that they were so into being ‘back to the earth’ they named their only child after a rock.”
He laughed. A lot of people laughed when they heard the story of my name, but he seemed to share my amusement at my crazy, organic folks. “You’re not serious.”
“Not entirely. Garnet is also my birthstone.”
“January,” he said without hesitation. “So, does that make you a Capricorn or an Aquarius?”
“Come on,” I laughed. “Look at me. Do I seem like a Capricorn to you?”
His gaze seemed to take in the pixie hair, ankh, and mini skirt in one measuring glance. “So, you’re saying you’re not somber and reserved?”
“Something like that.”
“I’m a Capricorn,” he said with a slight crinkle of a smile.
Oops. Before I could apologize for implying I wouldn’t want to be a Capricorn, Izzy interrupted us with his tuna sandwich. After she handed it over with a professional, “Here you are, sir,” she waited until he wasn’t looking and made the telephone sign to me with her fingers to her ear to let me know she wanted all the dirt later.
“I know Capricorns get a bad rep as being the boring responsible sign, but you’re more than that,” I said.
He gave me a look over the rim of his coffee mug that seemed to say, “You bet I am.”
What I’d meant was that a person’s sun sign was only one small aspect of their natal chart. Among a myriad of things there was the ascendant, the Moon’s sign, hard and soft aspects, and houses to consider. “What time were you born?”
“If you’re asking my ascendant, it’s Sagittarius.” I supposed I should be surprised he knew, but I wasn’t. I mean, he had walked into my shop looking for mandrake.
As he ate, I thought about his sun/ascendant combination. A person’s sun sign represents core personality traits, but the ascendant, or rising sign, is one’s mask to the outside world – how you present yourself. My first thought was: philosophical scientist. No wonder he was a mystical car mechanic. It might also explain the various jobs. His Sagittarian soul was seeking new learning experiences, while the Capricorn sun insisted he master all his chosen trades. Hmmm, I thought, attractive.
Ugh. What was I doing? I was sizing up my compatibility with someone who was dead. I squinted at his aura one more time: still nothing.
Watching him dig into his food, I decided he was certainly hungry enough to be a ghost. Vampires tended not to eat. Zombies couldn’t.
I picked at my croissant and tried to think if there was any other kind of reanimation I knew about. I squinted at his lack of aura again. If he’d been serious about the rock star thing I’d have asked Sebastian if he’d sold his immortal soul to Satan for a record contract or something. But, I didn’t believe in Satan.
If it was about the lack of a soul, Sebastian certainly had the muscles to be a golem. The most famous one had been made to protect the Jews of Prague from attack. If that were the case, he’d have the Hebrew word for life written on his forehead. I chewed another piece of pastry. I supposed that part of the legend could be some kind of metaphor. Or maybe if he frowned just right, it’d appear in wrinkles. It would help if I read Hebrew, of course. Still, Kabalistic rabbis would probably spawn an Orthodox golem, so I just had to figure out a way to ask him if he was Jewish. I could wait until we had sex and look, but circumcision was so common these days that it really wouldn’t be proof of anything.
“We could go out to a proper dinner, you know, if you’re still hungry,” I suggested, giving a meaningful glance at his empty plate. “There’s this great deli down the street if you need to keep kosher.”
He arched his eyebrow as he wiped his mouth with a paper napkin. “The only religious dietary restriction I’d even consider is the Pope’s requirement that I eat fish on Fridays during Lent. But that’s only because they have the best fish frys down at Syl’s.”
“Sort of,” he said with a wry smile. “I was. Well, technically, I still am. I was excommunicated.”
“Really? Wow. What did you have to do to warrant that?”
“Dabble in the dark arts,” he said with a smile that showed off his canines. Were they a little too sharp after all? “Catholics frown on witchcraft.”
I should know. The Vatican witch hunters destroyed my previous life. His comment made me curious about whether or not he was familiar with the assassins. Not everyone was. And those in the know tended to be very circumspect about talking about the Vatican and real magic in public. Of course, I’d already given Sebastian my true name, which was a big no-no among the hunted.
Yet, somehow I wasn’t quite ready to talk about the witch hunters. Probably because talking about killer priests out loud made me sound like as stark raving lunatic with a conspiracy theory complex. I still wanted to make a good impression on Sebastian, so I changed the subject somewhat. “What kind of magic do you practice?”
I was expecting him to mention Alexandrian or Seax-Wiccan, or Feri, but instead he said, “Alchemy.”
It was an odd answer, but it wouldn’t account for the lack of an aura.
Damn. I was running out of ideas. “Can I see your palm?”
“Are you Romany?” He offered his hand palm up without question.
“I may have a little Romany blood,” I said, taking his hand in mine. “Family lore has it that mother’s grandmother was.”
I peered intently at his palm, though I’d asked for it with an ulterior motive. His flesh was warm. What I now knew was grease had worked its way under his fingernails, but I did notice, he had no cuts, bruises, or scrapes anywhere on his hands. Which implied his flesh might be immutable or regenerative, since he worked with sharp and heavy car parts all day.
I ran my fingers along his wrist. There was no pulse.
“What do you see?” Sebastian asked.
I looked up into those gorgeous brown eyes with their unearthly light, which seemed only to have gotten brighter now that the sun had slipped below the horizon. He seemed genuinely interested in the fortune I might read, so I took a more serious look at his palm. I wasn’t an expert palm reader by any stretch, but I understood that the curved crease nearest the thumb was called the lifeline. His was broken in the middle where it split into two lines. I pointed to it.
“Well, if you weren’t sitting here with me, I’d say you died young,” I told him.
My hand cradled his so I could feel his muscles clench, though to my eyes he barely twitched. He knew he was dead, and now he knew I knew it.
“What else?” he asked, not bothering to respond to my implication.
I was almost out of tricks. Then I remembered one other thing my grandmother had showed me. I turned his hand to the side and looked at the skin underneath his pointer finger. There were no creases. “You will have no children.”
For some reason that pissed him off. He jerked his hand away. “Do you really believe in this stuff?” he asked, though from the way his jaw worked I thought it was pretty clear that he did.
I shrugged and sipped my latte. “I don’t know. People have been reading palms and stars for millennia.”
“Ignorant people,” he all but spat.
“Newton was an....” I started, but before I could go through my list of famous, intelligent people who believed in any number of “superstitions,” Sebastian interrupted me.
“Isaac Newton was an asshole. And mad as a hatter. He used to poke sticks in his eyes to test his optics theories.”
I crossed my arms in front of my chest. “You sound like you’ve had dinner with him.”
Sebastian’s lips twitched. “I have a masters in history of science. I take this stuff personally.”
A dead, English-educated auto mechanic/tour guide with a history of science degree who did herbalism on the side... if all of it was true, Sebastian was sounding more and more like a man who’d been kicking around for a few centuries and had a lot of time to pick up skills and interests.
Sebastian frowned out the window at the deepening twilight. The electric light caught the amber highlights in his eyes. I wanted to ask him about his strange reaction to my comment about children, but I didn’t know what to say or how to phrase it. I sensed it was a subject I need to tread carefully around. Sebastian certainly seemed deeply troubled, and I doubted his mood was a result of talking about Isaac Newton.
I reached across the table to caress the back of his hand where it wrapped around his coffee mug. At my touch, our eyes met. Oh, and what a look. It was one of those zing-we’ve-got-chemistry, smoldering, penetrating, I-can-almost-see-a-hint-of-your-soul meaningful glances.
My breath quickened. Sebastian leaned closer -- maybe to say something, maybe to kiss me. I stretched across the table, and a tingle of anticipation shot through me. He looked like he’d be a fantastic kisser and I was dying to find out for sure.
I found myself watching his mouth, reveling in the thin line of his lips… the sharp glint of his canines. The what? Before I could take a closer look, Sebastian turned away. “Sorry,” he muttered into his hand. “I have a transmission to rebuild tomorrow. Call me when the mandrake comes in, okay?”
“Uh.” Watching him stand up and shrug into his leather jacket, I was too stunned to say anything else. “But....”
His hand squeezed my shoulder as he headed for the door. The warmth of his palm lingered, momentarily, along the curve of my neck. “I had a great time. Really,” he said. “I hope to see you again, Lilith.”
“Yeah,” I said to the jangle of bells on the door as he walked out of my life. I replayed the last part of our conversation in my head, noting the various places I’d screwed up... or did I? I was on my fifth go-round when I nearly choked on my latte.
“He called me Lilith,” I said out loud, my heart pounding in my chest. “Lilith.”
I shouldn’t have done it, but I had to know. I shut my eyes for a moment, visualizing a doorway. In my mind’s eye, it was steel with a combination lock, like a safe or a bank’s vault. I imagined the tumbler spinning, all the while letting my breathing slow as my senses searched for the elements: earth, air, fire, water, spirit. The door swung open, and I felt the old power settle around my shoulders like a warm shawl.
Searching for a trace of residual magic, I reached for the rim of Sebastian’s abandoned coffee mug. My fingers jumped back after the lightest brush. The cup glowed red hot with his presence. In fact, when I looked around the room with my magical eyes I could see trails of everywhere he’d been, like wisps of black smoke.
I was so stupid. It was so obvious. He wasn’t dead; he was highly magical. Perhaps Sebastian was a necromancer or a dark Witch of some high degree. He’d have to be one wicked-powerful magician in order to recognize Her.
Vampires often saw Her. They didn’t always call Her by name, but they somehow seemed to sense that power riding me. It was probably why none of them had ever tried to kill me even when I recognized them for what they were. Vampires lived in secret. They didn’t like it when people pointed to them and said, “Hey, bloodsucker, what up?” Not that I’d ever done that, but, well, sometimes my mouth started up before I found the off-switch. Witness my exchange with Sebastian. I could stand to learn some subtlety.
Izzy plunked down in the chair Sebastian had occupied and grinned into my face. “So, who was the hottie? And why didn’t you go home with him?”
I hadn’t put away my magic, so I could see the remaining wisps of Sebastian’s energy scatter from Izzy’s bright blue aura like snakes recoiling from a sudden light. I shook my head and took a deep breath. It was always more difficult to close down the magic than to free it. “Give me a second,” I told Izzy.
Izzy was used to my weirdness. Though she anxiously fiddled with Sebastian’s mug, she didn’t interrupt as I gathered myself together and mentally relocked the door. When I opened my eyes again, the world had returned to normal. Mostly. I could still see a glimmer of Sebastian here and there, like the after-image of a Fourth of July sparkler.
“So....” Izzy prompted, “where’d you dig him up?”
I laughed. Izzy always surprised me, even though I’d done her natal chart and knew full well she was a latent psychic. “Sebastian came into the shop looking for some mandrake root.”
“Ooooh.” Izzy feigned horror. “’Satan’s root,’ that makes him some kind of evil magician, right?”
“Right,” I said a little too seriously.
Izzy and her damned intuition picked up on it right away. “Okay, what’s going on, girl? Normally, you’d be all giddy after hanging out with a handsome, grown-up man instead of one of those pimply college boys who want to initiate themselves at your altar. Something’s wrong. Seriously wrong.”
I rubbed my eyes. They always felt tingly after I used the magical sight. “Yeah, I don’t know, I guess it doesn’t really matter.” So Sebastian was a powerful, potentially evil necromancer. That really didn’t have anything to do with me. Well, other than the fact I should probably put aside my desire to date him. I also felt slightly less inclined to help him obtain his mandrake. Whatever he planned to reanimate probably wasn’t a good thing.
“Look at you, you’re all googly-eyed. You’ve totally fallen for this guy.”
Once again, Izzy was probably right. “That’s such a bad idea.”
“I don’t know much about him,” I said lamely. Actually, I knew quite a bit, but all of it was confusing, frustrating, or sexy. I was actually kind of surprised that Izzy didn’t seem to know Sebastian. She loved to dish and thanks to a Libra Sun and a Gemini Rising, she could usually charm any information out of anyone. “So, you’ve never seen him before? Never heard anything about a Sebastian Von Traum?”
“Honey, I’d remember a man like that.”
“I know him. I sold him his house.”
We both turned to stare at a woman who sat at the table behind us. She nodded. “Sebastian, right?”
My first impression was: this woman is completely forgettable. She had a soccer-mom bob of some undistinguished brownish color, a matching skirt and blouse. She completed the look with brown, low-heeled pumps. They weren’t Birkenstock-comfortable shoes by any stretch of the imagination, but they were the kind of dress shoes worn by women who had to be on their feet all day. Because I always looked, I noticed the small golden cross that hung around her neck. A nice Christian real estate agent, then – I wondered what she’d think if she knew she’d sold a house to a necromancer.
“I didn’t mean to eavesdrop,” she said. “Sebastian Von Traumm is such an unusual name, I recognized it instantly.”
Despite Izzy’s disapproving look, I motioned the woman over to the table. “He’s Austrian, I guess,” I offered, curious to know what else she could tell me about Sebastian. “English-educated.”
“Yes, I understand Mr. Von Traum is some kind of horticulturist at University,” she said. “I sold him his property.”
The way the real estate agent said “at University” pegged her as a foreigner. Nearly every Madisonian referred to it as UW. Most of the rest of America tended to add a “the” before speaking of higher education. “I thought he was a car mechanic.”
She gave a little disdainful laugh. “A car mechanic? With an original Picasso? I think not.”
I could almost hear the growl of murderous rage in Izzy’s throat before she spoke. “What are you saying? A car mechanic can’t own decent art?”
The agent raised a frosty blonde eyebrow and looked to me -- the other white woman at the table -- for help. I gave her none. In fact, I added, “Most college professors make much less than mechanics.”
“He doesn’t own it any more,” the agent said. “He sold it at auction a couple of months ago.”
Which was about the time Sebastian said he’d moved to Madison. At least the agent seemed to have the timing of Sebastian’s relocation correct.
“I suppose mechanics can only own velvet Elvises,” Izzy muttered into her coffee cup.
“Where did you say he worked?” she asked me, ignoring the hostile gaze shooting from Izzy’s eyes.
“I didn’t,” I said, while thinking: wouldn’t that have been on the loan application? Surely the woman must know where he works if she knows what he owns. What, did Sebastian hock the Picasso to buy the farm? “Why do you want to know?”
Her eyes slid from mine momentarily. Then, as if deciding on the lie she wanted to hand me, she looked up suddenly and said, “Networking. I get my best referrals from former clients. I like to stop by people’s workplaces. Sometimes they can introduce me to friends on the spot.”
Big fat lie. Not even a good one at that.
I frowned suspiciously at her. She was getting information from us, not the other way around. But I couldn’t understand it; I thought maybe she might be tracking Sebastian down for money owed or something. After all, she seemed to be trying to locate him, but if she sold him his house, she must remember the address. “What kind of property does Sebastian own?”
The agent studied her coffee cup for a noticeable moment before she spoke. “One with space for all those herbs of his.”
She had no clue. I, however, had typed his address into my computer less than twenty minutes ago. Sebastian had a farm just outside the city in Dane County.
“No mandrake, though, I guess,” Izzy said before I could kick her shin under the table. “Mandrake’s a Witch’s herb,” she added, clearly playing the freak-out-the-mundane game, which was especially odd considering that she was a Christian of some kind herself. Izzy must have been hopping mad about the classist remark the agent had made earlier for her latent psychic abilities not to catch my mental screams to shut it. “He was buying it over at Garnet’s shop. Probably for some spell, right, Garnet?”
“I’ve never heard of mandrake,” the agent said. “Does that grow around here?”
“It’s very common,” I said trying to sound casually disinterested. Though I didn’t know why, I hesitated to give this woman any more information about Sebastian than we already had.
“No, it’s not,” Izzy countered. “You’ve got to special order it. A bunch of naked lesbians have to harvest it by full moon.”
Normally, that would be game over. Your average mundane would have blushed, stammered, or fled at the mention of skyclad women wielding scythes. Our real estate agent merely blinked.
A creepy crawly feeling twisted across my stomach.
“So, he’ll be back,” the agent said. “Well, this was very interesting conversation, ladies, but I should really go. Maybe I’ll see you again, Garnet.”
When she hefted her purse onto her shoulder, the fabric at the back of her blouse shifted so that the v-neck exposed a bit of skin under her collarbone revealing the hint of tattooed numbers. I didn’t have to see them clearly to know exactly what was inked in blood red: 22:18. It was a reference to the Biblical book of Exodus, which read: “Thou shall not suffer a Witch to live.”
She was no real estate agent; she was a Vatican killer.