Copyright © 2012 Yolanda Sfetsos
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
“Are you daydreaming again?”
I blinked a few times, trying to clear the jumble of thoughts from my mind so I could focus on the man sitting across from me.
How romantic! We were supposed to be enjoying a nice dinner together and I was trying to mentally sort through my to-do list.
Jonathan Wells tries hard to accommodate my unconventional life. Yet, most of the time he’s the one going out of his way, or being stood up because “something important came up” at the last minute. It was hard to balance everything sometimes.
Most of the time I find myself torn between feeling sorry for him and feeling like I don’t deserve him. I’m very interested in him, though. I want us to become more than just a string of dates never tying together. Jonathan makes me laugh. He makes my heart beat faster. He’s an amazing, kind-hearted man with stunning, boyish looks I find myself gazing at all the time.
“I’m sorry. I was just thinking about…” I closed my mouth. That sounded so pathetic. Why was I thinking about anything when he was sitting across from me in a beautiful Italian restaurant? The weight of his leg against mine suddenly distracted me from everything else.
“You usually are,” he said with a sheepish grin.
“I promise, no more daydreaming. Well, unless it’s about you. Oh, and never when you’re just across the table from me.”
Jonathan’s grin widened and the corners of his eyes wrinkled in an adorable way that made my stomach drop.
“It sounds to me like we just made a deal, Ms. Fox.”
I flashed him a quick smile and nodded. “Thanks for bringing me here tonight. I really need a break from everything.”
“Well, maybe it’s time you and I got away from it all by taking off for the weekend.”
“I’d love to, Jonathan, really I would, but you know I can’t just up and leave. I’ve got a ton of unresolved cases.” And even more I haven’t even looked at.
“There’s a haunted lighthouse in it for you, if you agree,” he said, waggling his dark eyebrows. Jonathan sure knew how to tempt me.
I bit down on my bottom lip. “As tempting as that sounds, I can’t leave right now. Maybe in a few months…” I sighed. “I mean, it’s not just me. What about the bookstore? You can’t close up for the weekend, can you?”
Jonathan’s disappointment was obvious. He averted his dark eyes to wind a clump of spaghetti around his fork. “The bookstore could have a month off and no one would notice. Oh, hold on—it did! And as I said, no one noticed.” He shoveled the Bolognese-smothered forkful into his mouth.
I smiled sympathetically. His bookstore, Prologue, was a cramped two-story corner store in the heart of the city. It was hard to compete with the large book chains only blocks away. Still, Jonathan gave his bookstore all he had and specialized in genre-specific novels and occult reference books other places didn’t stock.
That’s actually where we met, while I was on a job in Prologue. Of course, I waited until the job was done before giving in to a date with him. It’s not wise to cross professional and personal wires. I find it’s better to separate the two when possible.
Jonathan had called me because a poltergeist was tearing his books and store apart. I was contracted to find him, her, or even them—sometimes they like to team up, it’s very adolescent but not out of the question.
Chaotic ghostly behavior is unacceptable in society. It’s my job to locate and deliver them to stand trial. Break the rules and they’re forcibly isolated from society, and that’s if they have a lenient judge. Most times, something this severe could land the spook a one-way ticket to the ghostly patch forever, never able to return again after banishment.
I’ve been responsible for a few of those cases.
A shiver raced down my spine.
I’m sure there are a bunch of pissed-off ghosts on that patch complaining, or even plotting against me. Or maybe I’m just a little paranoid and self-involved.
Either way, I track down spooks—ghosts, spirits, poltergeist, orbs—whatever ghostly disturbance is affecting someone’s life in a negative way.
I establish communication and bring them in.
Ghosts have rights, but with those rights come obligations and the responsibility to adhere to certain rules in every community. Break them and you suffer the consequences, just as any human would.
I tracked down the poltergeist who’d taken shelter in Prologue eventually. It ended up being a child who’d lived on the premises over a century before. He destroyed books because he didn’t know how to read. I tried to reason with him but he refused to show himself. Poltergeists are cheeky little buggers. They have so much more ability and control than an average spook but hardly show themselves.
In the end, the kid wound up in a home for troubled poltergeist children. Even though they’re usually teenagers, there’s the rare occasion of a younger child manifesting in this way. I try to visit as much as I can to see how he’s doing, but I still haven’t caught a glimpse of him.
The little guy’s happy at the home and learning to read. Thanks to him I met Jonathan. A wonderful man, who, if I didn’t pay more attention to soon, I would probably lose.
“I’m sorry, Jonathan. I promise I’ll take more than just a weekend off eventually, okay?” This was a line he’d heard many times over the last six months.
“Okay,” he said, returning to his almost empty plate.
“Are you sure you’re not a saint? I’m so lucky to have you.”
“You’ve got that little guy to thank, what’s his name again?”
“Yes, Tommy. He sure gave me a rough time.”
“He’s just a child crying out for help.”
“You certainly believe in your job, don’t you?”
“Unfortunately, it’s more than just a job. It’s something I can’t switch on and off, though I’ve wished I could many times during my life.” Too many times, because this field practically ran my life.
“I’m sorry, Sierra.”
“No, no, don’t be, it’s not your fault. I just get a little touchy sometimes. By the way, this fettuccine and mushroom’s great.” I took a bite from my fork.
“Yeah, so is this spaghetti.” He slurped a large strand in through his lips. Bolognese sauce stuck to the corner of his mouth.
I reached out and wiped the sauce away with my finger, caressing his lips with my fingertips. He lightly kissed my skin and my heart filled with warmth, fluttering as I rubbed my bare leg against his pants leg with a suggestive smile.
Maybe it was time for us to get the hell out of there and give in to the passion I’d been fighting.
The desire in his eyes made me blush. Moving my hand away from his face, I looked down at the food, hoping for a diversion. I would’ve been just as happy to stay in and call up for a pizza, but Jonathan had wanted a real date. I couldn’t help but wonder if he was regretting his decision. This was the same restaurant we’d come to on our first date, the one we frequented whenever a celebration was in order. I guess tonight’s celebration was just being able to spend time together.
I looked around the dimly lit room and spotted several regulars. I waved to the owner, Luigi, as he walked by.
The walls of this family-owned restaurant were painted a dark brown, giving it a cozy, cramped feel while the dimmed overhead lights caused shadows to collect around the tables with their red-and-white check tablecloths. The air was redolent with a combination of tomato, cheese and garlic scents, which made this a popular dining spot for couples and families.
My stomach dropped when I spied the two ghosts wandering around the crowded tables on the other side of the room. I lowered my eyes, hoping they wouldn’t see me.
Mr. and Mrs. Wicker were regulars—of the ghostly kind. The two-seater table in the corner was exclusively reserved for them, away from the rest of the diners. Neither could eat or drink, but it didn’t stop them from frequenting the restaurant.
The Wickers were silent ghosts caught in a loop. No one but those with the talent could actually see or hear them. Luigi hired me several years ago to communicate with the couple after diners seemed to be repelled by the cold in that particular part of the restaurant. It wasn’t good for business, but the Wickers never hurt anyone. Most of the time they just liked to sit at their table and reminisce about their life together—which tragically ended on the drive home from Luigi’s.
Whenever they spot me, they waltz on over and engage me in conversation. It gets a little lonely for them sometimes. Sure, they could move on to the next patch, but some spirits were just too comfortable in this world.
So far, they hadn’t noticed me. If they did, it would spell the end of my romantic dinner with Jonathan.
“Is there something wrong, Sierra?” Jonathan pushed his plate aside and took a sip of wine as he studied me.
I shook my head, gulping down another mouthful.
Mrs. Wicker raised a thin hand and waved.
I waved back with a half smile.
“Who are you waving at?” Jonathan asked, searching the room over his shoulder. “Did it just get cold in here?”
I nodded by way of reply. “Uh, the Wickers just arrived.”
“Oh.” He shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “Great.”
Jonathan knew the drill. The two would come over and wind up chatting the night away. He’d sit with a permanent smile plastered on his face, unsure of which direction to look, and would be left out of the conversation. Though he would feel the random electric zaps spooks often expulse. Not to mention the bone-chilling cold in the middle of summer.
I sighed, the passion bubbling in the pit of my stomach squelched by the Wickers’ presence. I definitely had to make it up to Jonathan.
As soon as the thought entered my mind, the couple appeared beside our table.
“Look, darling, it’s Ms. Fox.”
“You look like crap.”
“Thanks a lot.” I dropped into the cheap swivel chair behind my matching ratty desk and glared at my assistant. Exhaustion swept through my body and I couldn’t stifle a yawn. “I had a late night.”
Ebony’s eyes lit up. “Ooh, did your date with Jonathan finally turn into a hot all-nighter?”
“Don’t I wish?” I yawned a second time. “We got stuck with the Wickers until almost two in the morning. I don’t mind their company, they’ve always got something interesting to say, but poor Jonathan looked like he was ready to fall asleep at the table.”
“Why didn’t he? That’s what I would’ve done. Those oldies are trying to relive their glory days through you. Just ’cause you’re unlucky enough to see them doesn’t mean you should let them bore you to death.”
“They’re not so bad. They just get a little lonely. Besides, unlike you, Jonathan actually has manners. And I’m not selective with my talent.” I coughed for emphasis. If a cure for being able to stop “seeing dead people”—as Ebony so often liked to joke—was ever found, she would jump on it. Yet, as much as she tried to be considered normal, I found most of her tastes in everything a little unconventional. Not to mention that she loved the idea of becoming a full-fledged spook catcher. Yeah, Ebony was one big ball of contradictions.
She poked her tongue out. “Manners—who needs those when you’ve got a couple of spooks hoping to run into you?”
“Don’t be like that.”
“Anyway, I’m sure their invasion—”
“Whatever.” Ebony rolled her eyes and flicked a long strand of dyed blonde hair over her shoulder. “It must’ve done wonders for the libido.”
“Do you mind? Stop trying to find out intimate details. You know I won’t share.”
“Oh, come on, Sierra. Calm the f**k down, will ya? I’m just making conversation. As if I wanna know details about you and spunky boy getting it on. Not that you ever have any to share. I just don’t get why you’ve been so stuffy lately. What’s going on with you?”
“Nothing,” I answered a tad more defensively than I’d intended to. It was a blatant lie she would see through.
“Yeah, right, Sierra. You’re the world’s worst liar, you know that?”
Like me, Ebony’s gifted with the spook-catcher talent but she’s still a little young and can’t control it properly. Actually, it’s more like she’s too self-involved in her private life to bother taking control. There are classes available for gifted girls, but she prefers to be out in the field.
A few years back, after I finally decided to take on an assistant spook catcher, the pain in the butt pestered me for weeks. Working alone out of home had been ideal at the beginning, but when the cases increased in volume, and paperwork started to mount up, it became too hard to handle everything on my own.
I needed help.
So I rented some small office space near home. I got tired of people calling the house at all hours. Next step was to hire someone to answer the phone and take appointments, but I also needed someone who could do the spook catching side of the business with me. Only two other people applied for the job. One was a man in his fifties who was more interested in conjuring up spirits than seeking them out, and the other a woman I knew from high school who loved to torment me.
Jackie was a fraud, and had spent most of her life lying through her crooked teeth. She held a grudge for something that happened to us, and for some reason always seemed jealous of the talent.
I took great pleasure in knocking her back. I think she eventually got a receptionist job at the Spook Catcher Council—no doubt done to piss me off.
So I begrudgingly hired Ebony Aikan, the now twenty-one-year-old, loud-and-foul-mouthed fake blonde who sits across from me every day. Our desks face each other. I needed to keep a close eye on this one. And because we’re stationed in a small building, with several floors of small office space above and below, we don’t have a reception area. I’d hate to think what kind of stuff she’d try to get away with out of my sight. Heaven knows she tries to pull things off right in front of me.
“Man, if you weren’t my boss, I’d tell you what I really think,” Ebony said, inspecting her nails. They looked as if they’d been freshly polished. When I caught her lightly blowing on her blood-red fingertips, I knew exactly what she’d been doing before I arrived.
“Gee, I’d love to know when that ever stopped you.”
“Oh, trust me. I’ve never given you a real piece of my mind.”
“Right, so the comment about my ankle boots and shin-length skirt was just in passing?”
Ebony rolled her eyes. “You can’t expect me to ignore something like that! A tragic wardrobe malfunction has to be addressed.”
“You accused me of ransacking a homeless woman’s plastic bag. Isn’t that what you said?”
“That, Sierra, is the kind of thing only a true friend would say.” She looked me in the eye. Today she was wearing amber contacts. Why she needed to wear those creepy things was beyond me.
“Okay, friend, is there any chance of getting a nice cup of coffee so I can recharge my brain cells before tackling some of this work?” I asked, eyeing the manila folders stacked in a wobbly pile between our desks.
Ebony took the calls and the details. She then created an individual computer file for each and printed all the relevant information as a hard copy. In spite of her many quirks, Ebony was a great personal assistant. She kept on top of things, filed regularly, maintained a neat office—essential clutter not withstanding—and made the best cup of coffee in Sydney, possibly the whole of Australia.
Nine o’clock in the morning was just a little too early to deal with her antics. Especially when it reminded me how tired Jonathan and I were by the time he dropped me off at home. All we’d had energy for was a quick peck.
Not exactly what I’d envisioned sitting across from him at the table while wiping away sauce from his luscious lips.
I focused on my assistant. It was safer. “Well, is there any chance of getting one of your world-famous cups of coffee?” I don’t treat her like a slave. She loves to boast about everything. And if feeding her ego is what it takes to indulge in some caffeine-gold, I can live with it.
Ebony flashed me a smile and stood. “No problem. Are you sure you don’t want some of the new tea I got the other day? The flavors are amazing, and the soothing factor even better.”
She hardly shopped at local supermarkets like most people, preferred alternative outlets with too many herbal ingredients of unknown origin.
I shook my head. “I’ll just have an old-fashioned cup of coffee with two sugars and milk, thank you. No fancy New-Age tea for me today.” Or any other day, for that matter.
“Whatever you say, boss.” Ebony saluted as she headed across the room to our small, rickety table with a kettle, three mugs, her assortment of teas, my favorite coffee, sugar and a tiny fridge sitting underneath.
I swear it’s going to collapse on us one day, but we can’t afford to upgrade at the moment. That’s a little touchy subject I hate to dwell on or talk about, involving my still owing a whole bunch of money to the Spook Catcher Council.
Best not to start thinking about that now or I’d descend into a grouchy mood. Thinking about the asshole Mace Clamber and the way he’d conned me into such a disgusting contract, still robbing me of money at the age of twenty-six, always made my blood boil. But what teenager straight out of school reads the fine print?
I sat back in my squeaky chair, watching Ebony as she switched the kettle on. Her endless babbling only stops when she’s getting coffee ready. She takes it very seriously, feels that it’s a part of her apprentice training. She always makes everything sound so much flashier than it is.
There’s nothing exciting, fantastic or flashy about being a spook catcher.