Malady Place – E101 “Meeting Miss Faust” Act 1

This entry is part 1 of 7 in the series Malady Place
1 Malady Place, since the original building was built by Abraham Ulysses Faust, and by the statutes of the trust he placed the property in when he died, was required to have a Suite Number 6 on the sixth floor.
After being renovated or completely rebuilt several times, Suite Number 6 remained, even while the rest of the building changed. Thus, Suite Number 6 was surrounded by 614 (Global Data Exchange Unlimited Call Center #318) and 616 (The Natalie Harmon Design Studio). The door out front still featured the frosted window bearing the words ‘Faust, Private Eye’. It was the same one that was installed in 1927 by Wilson Faust.
It was now 2068. The business was Faust Investigations and Inquisition, and the Faust was Renee, the apparent great-several-times niece of Abraham.
Behind the frosted window was a wood paneled reception room with a modern desk and hardwood floors. Two neat file cabinets flanked the door to the inner office, and a water cooler was placed beside the door to the restroom. There was also a leather couch and two heavy, high-backed chairs.
The place was almost sterile in appearance. The only thing out of place and possibly personal was a lidded cardboard box on the desk.
The inner office wasn’t a proper one for a private investigator. Two cheap desks were pushed together at right angles with old novels, notebooks, small toys, printed sheet music, and various bits and bobs from about a dozen amateur chemistry sets. A silver plated dagger was thrust through the most important papers and envelopes, pinning them front and center on one of the desks.
One wall held a large and expensive antique book case, crammed beyond its capacity with hardcover volumes, many of them first editions, and slim notebooks filled with the same, small, precise handwriting going back almost two hundred years.
There were also filing cabinets; three in a row with a piece of board on top to make them into a large work table, home to a half dozen half-built model planes and cars along with a number of glue tubes permanently bonded to it. Beside them was a coat rack that seemed to exist only to display a fedora so battered that it would make any gumshoe proud.
In the midst of this chaos, Renee Faust sat with her feet, shod in heavy combat boots, propped up on one desk with her eyes glued to her computer monitor occupying the one clear space on the other.
Her blue eyes glittered as she watched a cartoon panther terrorizing a pair of bumbling explorers. Pink lips opened to capture a corn chip from the bowl set in the curl of her body. It was a typical day at Faust Investigations and Inquisitions. At least until the phone rang or someone came through the door.
That was a weekly occurrence at best. Less so over the past few months as she’d let her advertising lapse and didn’t even know how to start maintaining her website. Taking care of the mundane parts of the business hadn’t been her responsibility in years.
But it was up to her now. How hard could it be? She had done it before, lots of times. It wasn’t as if she needed a babysitter to watch her and keep her entertained. Maybe some solitude would be good for her. Strange thoughts had been rolling around in her head of late. Maybe it was time to…
She heard the door to the outer office open. Even though the glass in it was an antique, the door was relatively new (having been torn off its hinges just that past July). And yet somehow, like every door she’d ever had before it, the hinges squeaked.
“Hello? Miss Faust?” A female voice called, followed by the door squealing closed. Renee’s ears twitched. That voice rang clearly and honestly with trepidation, excitement, and curiosity. Not many people had a truly clear voice that Renee could easily read like that. It wasn’t a matter of enunciating, it was something you were born with and it came with a lot more than just a non-garbled transmission of emotion.
She should have risen to meet whoever it was, but she was pretty comfortable and it took a while for her to get this comfortable so…
“Back here.” She called. “Door’s open.”
The door to the back office opened, admitting enough bright light from the inner office to silhouette the newcomer.
She was a girl, at least compared to Faust, though by her reckoning, there weren’t a lot who wouldn’t be. Full-figured, but in no danger of being called overweight, she was dressed in a light green, fuzzy sweater, wool pants, and a long, white A-line coat. Most would call her hair black, but Faust could tell it was dark brown. In either event, it was mostly hidden by a black crocheted hat mashed down over it.
Without so much as an invitation, she stepped in, closing the door behind her. “Miss Faust, I’m Special Agent Winter Capshaw and—what are you wearing?”
Renee looked down. In addition to the army boots, she wore camouflage BDU pants, a sleeveless denim vest with plenty of pockets, and a dark purple sports bra. Brushing aside a few strands of equally purple hair that had fallen into her eyes, she looked back at Capshaw and ventured, “Clothes?”
Agent Capshaw rung her hands. “I know they’re clothes, but don’t you want to look somewhat professional?”
Renee wondered how sweaters and a hat that was clearly a present from her grandma were any more professional, but Agent Capshaw continued.
“Besides that, it’s almost twenty degrees out…” She shivered and drew her coat closer. Coming in from the heated hallway, she’d failed to notice that the office was decidedly unheated. “Why is it so cold in here?”
There was a heating unit under the window behind Renee. It has stopped working maybe three years ago and the glance she threw in its direction now was the sum of all her interaction with it in that time. “I forgot to call the landlord.” She said. Besides, there was a perfectly functional heating unit in the outer office if anyone got cold. Assuming that one wasn’t also broken.
“But aren’t you cold?” Agent Capshaw was probing now, Renee could tell. She knew something wasn’t right. “I mean, you’re wearing basically nothing; you must be freezing.”
Renee showed the depth of her concern by eating another chip. “Heh. Freezing.” She took the bowl of chips and set it on the desk, atop a small hill of pamphlets. The sound of her boots hitting the hardwood when she swung them off the desk was a heavy, ominous one most footwear couldn’t manage.
“Let me ask you something, Company Girl,” She turned her seat so she was facing the newcomer directly. “Do you have any idea how long it’s taken for women to get the chance to dress like this without getting stoned or shunned or disemboweled? Shit, it’s only been this good for like a hundred years and I’m not going to waste a second.”
She put her hands behind her head and reclined, making it a point to stick out her chest in what she hoped was a mocking fashion. “As for cold…well it sounds like someone didn’t explain things to you very well down at the home office.”
Capshaw tried to stand up taller, managing only to remind Renee of a frustrated hen. “I knew that you’re the covert field office for the Bureau here in Seatle, Special Executive of Outlier Affairs.”
“That’s all?”
“That’s all.”
“No never thought it strange that I’m the entire SEOA branch for the Pacific Northwest?” Renee now saw that this was going to take a long, long time and with deep regret, put her cartoon on pause.
For a long moment, Agent Capshaw stood transfixed, trying to come up with a retort. Slowly, her cheeks colored and she was forced to admit: “Actually… no. This is my first assignment.”
A cruel smirk came over the Renee’s face. “They sent a rookie to play with me? Wow, that’s so callous I’m actually impressed.” She leaned forward, childlike anticipation in her eyes. “Winter, you know what happened to my last assigned babysitter?”
“He asked to be transferred out?” Agent Capshaw hesitated to offer.
“A dozen times. They kept saying ‘no’ because they neither like nor trust me.” She jabbed a finger in the air, “Which is very smart of them I might add.”
“What happened to him then?”
Renee brought one foot back up on the desk with a resounding thump. “See these boots?” Winter nodded. “They were his. Emphasis on the ‘were’. Somewhere along the way, he stopped being smart, stopped asking to be transferred out. Then he tried to come out and play knight in shining armor when some hellhounds were playing hide and seek with me. The boots were pretty much the only things I found after.”
Agent Capshaw blanched.
“Aw, but I won’t let that happen to you, Snowy.” Renee cooed. “Better yet, how about you not let that happen to you? Keep this in mind; I don’t need a partner in battle, I need someone to sit here, in the nice, safe, warded office and use the nice, safe, virus protected computer to do all the office-y stuff detective agencies need to not fail so much, and also smile at clients, got that?”
“So… I’m your secretary?” Agent Capshaw looked more frightened by that than the prospect of being torn limb from limb by slavering hellhounds. “But I’ve had field training with my power. I’m here—“
“You also get to be my bestest girl friend.” Renee grinned manically. “You know; go shopping with me, rent chick flicks with me, occasionally help me cast mischievous spells, that kind of thing. The Agency is afraid of letting me get bored. They even tried paying the late Agent Tanner to sleep with me.”
“Wait, I’m not…” Agent Capshaw tried to protest, but the conversational juggernaut that was Renee Faust rolled on.
“But mostly, yes, you’re my secretary. Unless… what’re you trained in, anyway? Calling lightning? Speaking with the dead? Seeing the future?”
Agent Capshaw glanced at the floor. “Healing. Warding.”
The other woman’s eyes narrowed. “Another medic?! “she groaned, “What in the living Hell is wrong with you FBI guys? Only .003 percent of the magic sensitives in the entire world can learn magic and they waste time teaching you to be a magical band-aid? Snowy, we’re teaching you black magic.”
“What? But that’s against regulations.“
“Don’t care. I do what I want.”
“You’re going to get yourself fired.” Agent Capshaw warned. That earned her a spiteful laugh.
“Is that what you think? Snowy, they didn’t teach you anything, did they? They don’t have any authority over me. They barely have authority over magic sensitive humans.”
“You mean you’re not—“
“Hell no. You think I’m just some Nordic chick with a bad dye job?” She yanked on her own hair. “This purple is all natural. Cuffs and collar match too, by the way, but I don’t know you well enough to prove it.”
Winter threw up her hands. “No! I mean, I believe you. But what are you?”
“You’ve been through the basic training; you’ve seen the uglies, right?” Agent Capshaw nodded.
‘Ugly’ wasn’t just an insult; supernatural beings rarely conformed to earthly anatomy or physics, so standards of beauty were right out unless they were trying. Except for a few exceptions, their natural forms were almost universally hideous.
“Those are the things that go ‘bump’ in the night. Me on the other hand, I’m one of those things that doesn’t need to bump. In fact, when I’m around, they’re afraid to bump but so loud…” She grinned at the puzzled look Agent Capshaw wore.
Standing slowly, she unfolded to her full six foot, eight inch frame, purple hair blowing into an unruly mess on a wind Agent Capshaw didn’t feel. When she spoke again, her voice had acquired an extra bass component that made Winter’s heart jump and the rookie agent swore she got the impression of wings unfolding and extra eyes staring at her. “Because they’re afraid they’ll wake up something like me.”
Boneless, Agent Capshaw sank into the seat normally reserved for clients. It had almost no padding left and listed dangerously to the left, threatening to tip. “You’re…” She couldn’t believe she was saying it, “One of the Fallen.”
And then suddenly, Renee was just a normal, albeit very tall, woman again. “Heehee, I love doing that. Also, I like Forsaken better. Makes us sound cooler. Don’t ask for details though because they’re… fuzzy.”
“How old does that make you?” Agent Capshaw went for the easier question first.
“Let’s just say that I was there when Jesus Christ had his moment of doubt and pain.” She winked. “Though, you know, not right there. At least I don’t think. I was around, like… on Earth, but not… well, you know.”
She sat back down in thought. “I seem to recall being in the East somewhere and someone was telling me about this guy who was preaching a new religion back in the Old Old Country… but that could have been someone else. New religions were pretty common back then.” She blinked, remembering the question. “So yeah, I’m old.”
“How can you not remember? Everything I know about immortals says that they have perfect memory.”
“And that’s why they’re all nuts.” The purple haired woman rapped on her own head with her fist and made a face that very neatly invoked an image of insanity..
“And you aren’t?”
The other smirked. “You’re sitting across from a genuine, no fooling demon, calling her crazy?” Her left eye ticked, setting Winter on edge. “That’s pure gut, Snowy. Maybe you’re not so bad after all.”
“Uh… thank you, Ms. Faust?” Agent Capshaw ventured.
“That’s one of the things we’re going to work on.” Renee said, shaking her head violently. “Another rule: as much as they want it to be, this isn’t an FBI field office. This is my office. Has been since before prohibition, when I had to pretend to be a man and the FBI didn’t know what a demon even was.”
She got up and came around the desk, placing a hand on each of Winter’s shoulders, causing her to stiffen further. “So your check may say ‘fibee’, but you work for me, Snowy. And I don’t care about what your society says about professionalism, or any of that other garbage. I’m going to call you Winter or Snowy and you’re going to call me Renee.”
“Your name’s Renee?” Winter decided not to argue against being called ‘Snowy’ just yet.
“It’s the most recent one I remember.” Renee shrugged, squeezing Winter’s shoulders. “Not that Milton had a Renee in Paradise Lost, but then I don’t remember any of them having my hair either. So that’s probably fiction. Probably.”
“So how is it again that you can’t remember?” Winter asked, realizing that resisting just make Renee message her shoulders harder.
“Because I’m smarter than those other bearded saps.” Renee gave a wolfish grin. “About the time Rome was falling, I figured out why you go crazy from being immortal. They teach you that in basic, Snowy?”
“No… I didn’t even consider…”
“Of course not. But I know.” She continued her impromptu massage. “You know those little moments in your life you find yourself wishing you’d done different? The times you replay over and over in your head whenever you’ve got nothing better going on up there?”
A few of those memories surfaced in Winter’s own mind. “Y-yes.”
“See, you humans get it easy. Over time, your memory goes all fuzzy around the edges. You pile up only about twenty, thirty years before it all kind of smooths out. Not us. That ‘perfect memory’ you humans want is what I wanted to get rid of. See, eventually, you remember so much that everything reminds you of something and you end up… doing things to keep your mind off it.” The edge in her voice told Winter that none of those things was pleasant.
Winter craned her neck back to look at Renee. “So you learned a ritual or something?”
“Or something. I learned a special brew that kills enough brain cells to make absinthe look like a paper cut in front of an atomic bomb. A couple of swigs every couple of decades and I can live with myself. Not that it makes me human in any way. It just keeps my lucid.”
“I’m… sure.” Winter said meekly.
Just then, the phone in Renee’s vest rang. She relented on her method of making Winter relax to answer it. “Faust I&I; how can I help you?” She listened intently. “Mrs. Crosby, I’m sure it’s just rats, but I’ll come check it out. Why don’t you take Mr. Crosby to lunch or something, okay?” She nodded despite Mrs. Crosby not being able to see her do so. “Great. I’ll call you and tell you what I found. Thanks. Bye.”
She clicked the phone closed. “Oh well, looks like the team-building meeting is over. Come on and get up, it’s time to go to work.”
“Huh? I thought the rule was I stay here.”
“Plans have changed.” Renee grinned, grabbing her fedora from the coat rack and placing it on her head. “If you’re going to learn black magic, you’re going to need to see it used in the field.”
“But I don’t want to learn – and using it on rats?!”
“Oh come now, Snowy.” Renee shook her head. “There’s not rats. Look who you’re talking to! Did you really expect me to tell the truth? There may have been rats at one point, but I’m sure they’ve all been eaten by now.”
End Act 1
Series NavigationMalady Place – E101 “Meeting Miss Faust” Act 2 >>

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Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter. You can also purchase his books from all major platforms from the bookstore
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