- Malady Place – E101 “Meeting Miss Faust” Act 1
- Malady Place – E101 “Meeting Miss Faust” Act 2
- Malady Place – E101 “Meeting Miss Faust” Act 3
- Malady Place – E102 “The Roomie Rules” Act 1
- Malady Place – E101 “Meeting Miss Faust” Act 4
- Malady Place – E101 “Meeting Miss Faust” Act 5
- Malady Place – E101 “Meeting Miss Faust” Act 6
Malady Place – E101 “Meeting Miss Faust” Act 2
Renee stopped in the outer office to rifle through the desk. Winter wasn’t far behind.
“I may…not, I know I’m going to regret learning the answer to this, but… why are you sure the rats have all been eaten?”
Renee finally came up with a set of archaic car keys. Pocketing them, she turned and caught Winter about the shoulders, leaning down so their faces were just inches apart.
“Snowy, that’s one of those questions that’s dumb, but it’s okay because you wouldn’t know why.”
Winter started to protest, but Renee interrupted. “Everything eats rats, Snowy. Rats and pigeons are the unsung heroes of the human race and all the animals they actually care about. To everything from the Other Realms, vermin are like bar nuts; delicious, nutritious and pretty much free. Except for us, ‘free’ is more in the sense that no one is going to run to the cops because some pigeons disappear as opposed to say, their cat or their nephew.”
The face that her superior, whom she’d only just met five minutes earlier was now grabbing her for the second time that day shorted out something in Winter’s brain for just a few seconds, allowing another gem of a question to escape from her mouth.
“When you say ‘we’…?”
Renee let her go with a laugh. “Oh of course not. Okay, well not recently. Unlike most of the Other Realms creatures that cross over, I have money—I can afford pizza.” After a beat, she added, “But seriously, pigeon roasted over an open flame; a little rosemary, a little pepper—delicious.”
When Winter only stared at her, Renee rolled her eyes and headed for the door. “Whatever, let’s head down to the car.”
Renee didn’t show any signs of discomfort as they walked the three blocks to the parking garage.
For the first half block, Winter just trialed her in silence, trying to draw some conclusions about the demonic woman. That turned up very little: Renee bought a hot pretzel with mustard, cast a few appraising looks at passing men (several of whom returned the favor, given her mode of dress), and hummed unconsciously to herself, switching melodies often.
Finally, she couldn’t stand it and jogged up to walk beside her. “Okay. My first question was ‘dumb’, but how about this one: you seem to have a history of this kind of thing with the woman who called. Care to explain?”
The demon cut off her humming to regard her federally mandated minder. “You picked up on that, huh?” Winter nodded. “Interesting. Maybe you will be of some use in the detective half of the job. Okay, here’s the story: Mrs. Crosby is music teacher. A very good music teacher. As in she has an eye for finding genuine talent and nurturing it. Twelve of her students over the past forty years have gone double platinum, two have won awards for movie scores, dozens have gone on to be teachers themselves. If music were a disease, Madeline Crosby would be patient zero; Typhoid Mary.”
“I… think I’m about to ask another stupid question.” Winter murmured, taking note of the more serious tone Renee had taken.
“’Why does that matter’? Oh, Snowy, that’s not a stupid question at all. That’s a question your old bosses in the fibbie never think to ask.” She paused to take tear a chunk off her pretzel and offer it to Winter, who took it, but not without feeling vaguely like she’d just been given a treat for learning a new trick.
“Music stimulates emotion in humans. A lot of those out on the Other Realms are sense freaks that get off on that—if not just straight up drawing energy from it. Ghosts, my god, ghosts are all about music and they just love folks like Mrs. Crosby.”
Winter chewed slowly on her pretzel. “I did do some study on postmortem consciousnesses and I can see how that makes sense, especially if Mrs. Crosby still teaches from her home. But that’s not it, is it? Ghosts only consume emotional energy and you said any rats will have been eaten.”
“My goodness, Snowy, you’re two for two.” Renee said cheerfully. “If it was a ghost, I wouldn’t be going over there at all. I’ve got a guy I call when there’s ghosts involved, he calls me when it’s something from the Other Realms—it’s just good business.”
She crossed her arms behind her head and leaned back a bit, looking at the overcast sky. “Nope; see, Crosby is a mortal muse and just her being in this city, she adds to the population of great musicians, which in turn attracts Seelie Fey, ghosts, all sorts of servants of the Olympiad, Loa and the occasional cultured vampire den. That’s a lot of competition for territory, holdings, food—everything. The higher ups have enough sense to know diplomacy is best in this situation, but the Generals and Captains? Not so much.”
Winter had been through basic and knew that only one group of outsiders appropriated human military jargon for their warlike hierarchy.
“Demons.” She muttered.
Renee laughed. “Lucky for you, we’ll probably just be dealing with devils today, Snowy. Crosby isn’t that high a priority. The last two times, it’s just been imps. Anyone with an ember of power can make a whole mess of imps and send them out poltergeisting.”
“I really don’t want to sound ignorant but…” Winter started.
“Gaslighting. Is that still a word people use?” Renee tried to clarify. “The general idea is that some love level nobody down in the hot place thinks they can score some easy points with his higher-ups by running the Crosbys out of the city. So they send in some imps to screw with them: make noises and disappear when they go looking, steal stuff under their nose, breath down their neck—all the creepy kind of stuff that might make a couple of pretty well-off older folks decide it’s time to go.
“Not the Crosbys though; they’re stubborn. The first incursion went on for years before the husband, David, decided that if exterminators and contractors couldn’t put a stop to the ‘haunting’, then maybe a psychic could help. And, as luck would have it, he picked a friend of mine out of the passel of charlatans out there. Monsieur Franco called me, I took out the imps, and that’s how it’s been going to past five years now”
They reached the street entrance to the parking garage and went, passing through the attached commuter pod station. Winter reveled in the warm air a bit before saying, “An idea why they keep at it if it’s been years without a result?”
Renee paused to show her parking stub to the attendant before they boarded the elevator to the fifth level of the garage. She waited until they were alone in the lift to answer the question. “Right years isn’t a lot for an immortal. Remember, even a Captain level demon won’t actually die unless they’re killed—if then. What’s another decade angling for a promotion or reward when you’ve been passed over of centuries?”
“That makes sense.” Winter agreed. The elevator dinged and they exited into the cold but still air of the garage. Growing reliance on the pod system meant that fewer and fewer local cars filled the garages, leading to a rainbow of out-of-state plates and out-of-town tags around them.
“Yup.” Renee said proudly, “It’s kind of boring, really. Maybe once a month, something nasty without proper understanding of etiquette like ‘don’t kill the humans’ wanders into my territory and I get to do terrible things to them. Maybe once in a few months, a couple Other Realms factions get into it and I play arbiter with some Hellfire. Otherwise, it’s small stuff like cleaning up after some petty bastard or a renegade from one group or other that doesn’t think the rules apply to them.”
She stopped walking when she came to an absolutely ancient, but perfectly preserved car. It was so big that it took almost half of its neighboring space and the rear end stuck out several feet pas the other cars. Black ‘antique’ plates bore the custom lettering RFAUST1.
Winter recalled the name Cadillac from old songs, but had never actually seen one. It was burgundy with wine-colored plush seats; everything immaculate in stark contrast to Renee’s office.
Ignoring Winter’s gawking, Renee continued. “So understandably, I get bored. That’s where you come in. The fibbie thinks if I’m bored enough, I’ll turn terrorist or serial killer or something. They can’t kill me and it never occurs to them to get me an online gaming account or something. Uncreative, you fibbie guys.”
She used the key fob to unlock the doors and got in on the driver’s side. “So that’s where you come in, Snowy. When there’s downtime and I want to go see a movie, you get to split the cost of popcorn with me. I want to go on vacation, you get the adjoining room. And if I want to go on a double date, guess who gets the ugly friend?”
“So my superiors more or less sacrificed my personal life to the hopes of keeping your imagination in check.” It wasn’t a question. Winter settled into the passenger seat and stared dully at the glove box in front of her.
Renee turned the key (something else Winter had never seen done in real life before) and the engine came to life with a god-awful roar that made Winter gasp. The demoness smirked.
“Don’t say such things, Snowy. They hurt my feelings. The poor bastard before you aside, it’s not that much of a sacrifice. I’m a pretty damn fun lady to hang out with, thank you very much. And it’s not like you can’t have all your other friends, go on your own dates and stuff. You just happen to have a government-mandated best friend you can’t say ‘no’ to.”
When Winter was silent, Renee glanced her way and found her still staring blankly. “I’m not going to take complete advantage of that, mind you.”
Still more silence.
“It’ll be fun.” Renee almost whined. “And I’ll buy the popcorn outright—you won’t have to pay.”
Renee scowled. “Oh come on! What is up with you?!”
“It’s not about you.” Winter said, voice tight. “I… well it just occurred to me that I was probably the best choice, and that’s kind of depressing.”
Renee blinked. “Come again?”
“I’m not just magic sensitive, okay?” said Winter. “I’m third generation magic sensitive. My grandma, my dad—both agents, but great warders. I wanted nothing more than to be like them, so I worked my ass off studying in school to get into the FBI and practicing every spare minute to make sure my magic was the best it could be.”
She snatched off the knit cap on her head and ran her free hand through her hair. “I thought it was all worth it, you know, this morning. All the work, all the things I missed because I was focused in high school instead of getting high and partying. It was all worth it because I was going to work with the Special Executive of Outlier Affairs for the Pacific Northwest.”
A burst of air, too angry to be called a sigh, whuffed out of her lungs. “Now I find out that I’m just here because all that work made sure I basically have no close friends, so what the hell, why not send me to look after someone they’re scared of. It’s humiliating!”
Renee pulled out of her parking spots and started the long journey out of the parking garage. “Yeah, that is kind of humiliating. Dehumanizing, really.”
Without even looking, she knew Winter was glaring at her.
“It’s probably as bad as knowing that you were a grown damn woman since before these guys’ great-grandfathers were born and yet they figure you still need play dates and the buddy system to make sure you don’t turn into a juvenile delinquent.”
An uncomfortable noise from Winter told her he’d hit home.
“Yeah, the fibbies are assholes like that. More than a hundred years after they found out about the Other Realms and they haven’t learned not to judge yet. I guess my old buddies did a good job fostering that in humanity from a young age, but still, seeing as you figured out how to split the atom and found the Higgs boson—something even the Olympiad’s best minds failed at—you’re think you’d advance past that.”
She sighed. “Look, it’s a shitty situation, Snowy. Neither one of us is ever going to get any respect. I deal with that by not caring. I can have a damn good time without them, get it? I do what I want and the price for that it letting the fibbie think they’ve got some kind of control.”
Winter still said nothing as they pulled out of the garage and onto the street.
Renee opened the console between them and took out a pair of sunglasses, which she slipped on in spite of the fact that it was dreary and overcast. “Give me a week.” She finally said. “Give me a week to prove that this isn’t so bad. IF we’re not getting along by then, I’ll personally call and tell them to get you out of my sight.”
“I thought you didn’t have a say.”
“Mostly.” said Renee, watching the street. “But I bet they’ll hop if I tell them I’m annoyed enough by you to kill you.”
She felt rather than saw Winter cringe.
“I’m not though. God, Snowy, just because I’m a demon doesn’t mean I’m evil… I think. It’s a matter of philosophy really. Am I not evil because I don’t act evil, or am I evil because I’m a Forsaken and Forsaken are, by definition evil? Hell, I don’t even remember rebelling against the Throne. If that’s even how it all went down.”
She took a breath. “Wow that ranged pretty far afield. But anyway, one week, Snowy. Can we be cool with each other that long? I don’t like just talking to myself.”
Winter blew out a slow breath through her nose. “You’d really do that for me?”
Whatever steel had entered her during her earlier rant melted away, leaving Renee feeling like she was conversing with an unusually intellectual kitten.
“Yeah. Why not? Not like I mind tweaking the fibbie’s nose once in a while. One week and if you don’t like it you’re out of here. Deal?”
A moment before she confirmed that they had a deal, Winter recalled the little matter that she was talking to a demon named Faust. “I’ll… give it a try.”
“Smart.” Renee said, pulling the sunglasses down her nose far enough to let the other woman see the twinkle.
They drove in silence a few miles, heading out into the suburbs. “By the way; your wardings…got anything to protect someone from bites?”
“It’s probably a good idea to cast that one both of us. Twice if possible.”
End Act 2
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