I stared at my kitchen table wondering if Life was playing a prank on me or setting up a bad joke. An exorcist, a witch, and a grim reaper all sit down for breakfast cue punchline.
Anna for her part looked almost as bad as I felt; the familial bond told me that apart from a minor headache she was no worse for wear. In general, she seemed rather pleased with things and found Matilda’s glares across the table at Father Vincent amusing.
“If I knew I had guests I would have put something on.” I was still wearing my boxers from last night; who had stripped me was a question I didn’t want an answer too. “Is there coffee?”
Anna handed me a cup; she would have known I was waking up. “Vinny insisted on sticking around to make sure you were going to be ok, and not turn into a bloodthirsty monster. Matilda wouldn’t leave him alone with you.”
“Which doesn’t explain who you are,” Matilda said, “Corvid why are you living with a kid.”
“I’m not a kid I’m fourteen.”
“My point stands.”
“She’s my sister,” I lie.
“She’s black.” Matilda shoots back.
“And not in any of your family photos.”
“Was that a question? Or are you trying to see which lie I’ll believe, at least, dig in a different direction.”
“Oh for the love of crap you two, ” Anna cut in. “I’m his familiar, no I’m not human, yes my relative age is fourteen, yes I have to look like this, yes he does think of me as his little sister.”
“You have a familiar, and you’ve never introduced us?” Matilda asked.
“Are you sure she isn’t human? Because she seems human to me, and I’m suppose to be able to tell.” Father Vincent said.
“I signed over my humanity for an excellent benefits package, you’re going to want to put on some pants bro, V is on her way, and we both know she won’t be impressed.” Anna said.
“V?” I ask.
“Redhead, hot, threatened to shoot you a couple of times.”
“Oh yeah,” I say heading back into my bedroom. “There had better be more coffee when I come back.”
As I walked out, I heard Matilda ask, “why is someone who threatened to shoot him coming over?”
I closed the door and cut off Anna’s answer; it didn’t matter she knew what secrets I wanted to keep. She knew better than I did which ones would get me into trouble; I was surprised she wasn’t holding hers closer to the chest.
Taking inventory I found my amulet around my neck, most were spelled to draw attention and make allegiances clear. Mine was the opposite only drawing attention when I drew attention to it. I hadn’t realized it was that strong if Matilda hadn’t noticed it just now.
Of course considering the woman who had given it to me it was probably the most potent spell in the state. It wasn’t the only mark on me she had left, she was the one who performed what she called a true familiar ritual for Anna and me.
My coat was hanging in my closet the blood having been washed off; my jeans however were in a bag with blood spots. My shotgun and handgun shoved under my bed.
I could probably expense the jeans, after all, they were stained in the line of duty. I pulled out an identical pair and a green shirt. Running my hand through my hair, I headed to the bathroom.
I looked like shit, paler than anyone healthy, shadows under my bloodshot eyes. Worst of all my short dark hair was such a mess my fingers couldn’t help it. Washing my face and brushing my teeth only served to make me look wet and dying.
Under my bathroom mirror was a tube of pink lipstick, the same spot it had been for the last month. Anna had given me shit for not moving it, but it had been left there all same. It belonged to the same person who had given me my amulet.
After losing a staring contest with the damn tube, I applied it, poorly. Not that it mattered the effect was immediate, I got my slight tan back, my eyes seemed to un-sink and clear up. My hair even started to behave itself. Pink, however, was not my color, and I quickly removed it before Anna showed up with a camera.
I made it out just in time to finish my coffee and hear the doorbell ring. V waited outside towering above me; her face looked Scandinavian. Her long red hair was still loose, but she had changed into black suit pants and a white blouse.
She had two shoulder holsters, the left one had a gun I didn’t recognize, but the right one was historic. It was a Luger, from my minimal interactions with V I suspected she wasn’t the type to buy a gun. I added it to the ever-growing list of things not to ask about.
Father Vincent and Matilda looked surprised when I brought her in, they hadn’t even noticed the doorbell.
“Father Vincent, Matilda this is V. She’s with the Garden, they like to keep an eye on me. Play nice.” Father Vincent and Matilda presented their amulets, V did not.
“Aren’t you going to identify yourself?” Matilda asked.
Father Vincent, who was wearing a frown, answered her. “Only humans have amulets; members of the Garden aren’t human.”
“But only humans have clans.” Matilda said confused.
“Yeah, Garden view is full of humans, and they bind monsters they consider too dangerous into the Garden.” Anna said.
Matilda paled, probably because she had been checking V out. “Don’t worry she probably won’t kill and eat us all.” I say.
“Oh I would kill you all given the chance,” V said showing off her perfect teeth. “But for now, I’m just here to check on Corvid. I’m going to assume you nearly killed yourself seeing as how you’re wearing that bitches glamor.”
“Hey, she is a perfectly lovely lady.” I shoot back.
“Except when she’s being a manipulative psychopath,” Anna chuckled, “Don’t get me wrong I love her she’s great, but she did a superb job of screwing Corvid here, and not in a fun way.”
“Anyways,” I cut in before anyone could mention her name. Matilda knew who we were talking about, and Father Vincent probably did. “You knew I was fine, so why are you here?”
“Big man wants to talk, so I’m to give you a ride,” V answered.
“Just like that?” Matilda said, “you don’t just get to call someone on a whim, he used a ridiculous amount of power last night and should be resting.”
Anna cleared her throat, “actually the big man can totally call us on a whim, he could probably call anyone on a whim, and they would come. Relax, we’re under Garden protection they won’t do anything to us, they just like keeping an eye on healers.”
“Hardly the only protection we’re under,” I add walking over to the basket next to the door and pulling out a panic button. “This is from the foxes, on click and I’m teleported somewhere safe,” I hold up three letters that were under the bowl. “These are from Lamia’s offering their daughters in marriage, and one says if that isn’t acceptable she has a good looking son, and the Prometheans send a patrol around the block every couple of days. I’m starting to feel like a piece of meat that everyone wants a part of.”
“It’s not often you find someone brave enough to be a healer; it will stop if you join a group that can protect you. Like mine,” She said. It was a joke I had no interest in joining a tantric cult, and she knew it. She also wasn’t wrong, besides the three prominent families in the area, her group was the only one strong enough to keep others away.
Not including Garden View, of course, we only have one office here, and it was because I live here. Garden View was, however, big enough to keep everyone away if I wanted, the threat of dragons can do that.
I still acted annoyed, “that’s it out witch,” I said pointing towards the door.
“I’m not leaving you alone with them,” she said not moving.
“You have worked one of us needs to be there, I’m kicking out Father Vincent too, and I’m leaving with V.” I reply pointing towards the door.
“Policy is to keep a twenty-hour watch in case the patient doesn’t make it.” Father Vincent said, but he still stood.
Matilda left first, but Father Vincent turned to talk to me before he left. “No one know’s your Garden View?”
“Father you’re a coworker from the Vatican, she’s a small town enchantress. Despite our reputation, we like to keep a low profile if only so our friends don’t treat us differently.” I answer.
He doesn’t press the issue, which is good since I don’t know the rep Garden View has. I kept it quiet on the advice of Anna if Garden View binds monsters I had to wonder where I fit in their hierarchy.
“Oh stop being contemplative so early in the morning,” Anna said once Father Vincent left. “It’s too early for that shit.”
“You did remarkably well last night on your first kill Corvid,” V said.
“I’ve meant to ask, do I not possess empathy or did you guys mind fuck me into being ok with that,” I say.
She grins showing off her teeth again, “Mindfucking isn’t my department, but if you keep putting on good showings I might be interested in helping you with half of that.”
“Don’t do it, man, she’s a necrophiliac,” Anna shouted.
“What’s wrong with liking those like me?” V asked.
Anna mock hid behind me, “Protect me with your still beating heart, it’s my only hope.”
I grab Anna and throw her over my shoulder following V out the door. I don’t bother locking it, in the words of Anna it was haunted as shit. The spirits mostly hid when we were around but worked better than a dog at keeping the undesirables out.
V’s car was a pale gray hearse, sitting in my driveway. It came with heated seats and was either very well sound proofed or had an electric motor because I couldn’t hear the engine while we were under way.
Other features of note were the ability to run red lights without getting into accidents, and somehow being immune to traffic. It turned a forty-five-minute drive in morning traffic into fifteen. I’m not sure how many traffic violations V managed in those fifteen minutes, but I was weak at the knees by the time we arrived.
Our destination was a modest two-story house with a white picket fence, and a garden full of flowers. The small gate had a brass plaque stating simply ‘Garden View Mortuary,’ I had no idea if any of the bodies in the building needed refrigeration but it was a question I didn’t want to ask.
Our destination was on the second floor and through a door with a plaque labeled ‘Regional Director’, I had also never asked how they defined a region. The room inside was full of loose files, full file cabinets, and an ebony desk. It had just enough room for the overweight man with a long white beard and red nose to sit. A plaque on his desk said A. Marsh, frankly this place had far too many plaques for my taste.
“Hey Santa, I heard you wanted to talk.”
“You know I could have you replaced with less of a smart-ass.”
“But I’m too cute for that.”
“You look like death.”
“See, I fit right in with the rest of you zombies.”