Chapter 3.43 – More Meat

Seth Grimm had faced a number of arduous challenges in his time on the planet, from false accusation to imprisonment, but he’d take another three decades in solitary confinement if, for once, he could just get his bloody fledgling out of the door on time.

It had taken almost an hour to get to this point, but Faith had finally whittled her outfit choices down to two. It wouldn’t have been this difficult if she hadn’t learned, during her snooping as she recovered in the small apartment, that the former occupant had a number of designer dresses in her closet that were, coincidentally, in Faith’s size.

She was swanning about like a supermodel, trying on each and every gown and ruling them out one by one, while Seth waited in various places in the apartment, growing steadily more bored and frustrated.

“Which of these would work best for wherever we’re going?” she asked, gesturing to the two shortlisted dresses.

Seth sighed. He’d answered this question, albeit worded a few different ways, a half dozen times in the last thirty minutes as Faith had attempted to wheedle out his plans without directly asking. It was even more tiring than a direct hit. He could have simply told her his plan, but he did enjoy watching her dance around him on hot coals. And dance indeed she did, especially after the show she’d made of herself the previous night.

“Either. It doesn’t matter.”

“Of course it matters.” Faith pouted. She pinched at the fabric on the blue dress. “I like this one, but it’s so classy – does it need to be classy?”

“No.”

“Oh.” She plucked at the black one. “But the fabric on the black one is softer, stretchier. Does that matter?”

Seth rolled his eyes. “No.”

She tapped her chin. “The black one has a massive cut-out, though, so my huge fucking gut will be on display.”

“What gut?” Seth snorted.

“This!” Faith puffed her abdomen out and gave it a slap. “I’ve never ‘eaten’ so well in my life. I look like a blimp.”

Seth only laughed.

“Seriously,” Faith said, suddenly concerned. “Am I getting fat?”

“I’ve seen more meat on a butcher’s pencil,” he murmured, without looking at her.

“What the fuck does that mean?”

Seth had been trying to resist ogling her as she stretched and bent before the dresser in only her underwear, but there was something about her being on the fringe of losing her temper that revved his engine past the point he could ignore. He finally turned to face her, taking in the svelte shape of her for a moment before replying, “You are not fat, Faith.”

She drummed her fingers on her skin. “Caleb called me fat once. Sort of.”

“Caleb is an idiot.”

Faith nodded, looking back towards the rail. “So, I won’t look like a taped-up sausage in the black one?”

“No.”

“I might still wear the blue one,” Faith said softly. “It’s Joy’s birthday today and blue is her favourite colour. It’ll be like an homage.” She ran her fingernail down the dress, contemplating. “Did you take her present around today?”

“No.”

Faith rounded on him, tipped instantly to rage at his words. “You said you would go today!”

“I did,” he agreed. “And I will, if you ever pick a bloody dress.”

It took Faith a moment, but she eventually realised that he had, inadvertently, given her the answer she’d been trying reach.

“You’re going tonight?” she asked, her eyes going wide as he nodded. “So, what are you dumping me round the corner first? Great. I may as well wear a fucking bin bag.”

We’re going tonight,” he corrected. “You can give Joy her gift.”

Faith’s face split into a huge grin, that slowly warped and twisted itself into a grimace and look a look of abject horror.

“What the fuck. I can’t go and see her. Can I? No, I can’t!” she squealed answering her own question so he didn’t have to, torn between her rapture and her panic. “She might see me!”

“Isn’t that the point of visiting someone, to see them?”

“But I’m… I might… wait, we don’t need to go in, right? I can leave her present on the doorstep, right?”

“You could,” he agreed tentatively.

“I could…” she mused, chewing her lip. “But I can’t go all the way there, leave her a present and not see her.”

He cleared his throat and offered her his plan, finely presented, naturally. “Perhaps,” he mused as if he hadn’t already given this copious thought. “With my supervision, I suppose we could go in, briefly.”

She wasn’t listening. “I bet she already thinks I hate her for abandoning her in the first shitting place.” She thumped the dresser and let out an anguished roar. “I’m just like my dad, floating in and out at his whim, always leaving her wondering when she’ll next see him! Ugh!”

Seth remained silent, allowing her tantrum. Eventually she whispered. “Maybe it would be better to let her forget me. Forget her.”

“If only that worked,” Seth murmured, but Faith didn’t hear. “You don’t want to see her?” he asked.

“I do!” she whined. “But how can I? She’d definitely want to hug me and you saw what Mel did to her dad—”

“I did,” he agreed. “And you saw what I did to Melinda.”

“Yeah… but you can’t control me properly, I’ve got, you know,” she waved around her head. “The weird brain thing.”

You have indeed, he thought to himself, trying very hard not to lick his lips. Instead, he smiled. “If subversion should fail, Faith, remember; I am stronger than you, faster…”

She snorted. “Yeah, sure you ar— oof!”

The wind was knocked out of her as Seth moved, part man, part mist, pinning her to the wall in an instant. He waited until her senses caught up with her and her unimpressed neutral expression returned before relenting.

“That was just lucky,” she said. “I was distracted by dresses.”

“As will I be if you wear the black one.”

Faith let out a little gasp as he stepped back, still smarting. “Then maybe I should wear the blue one.”

“Maybe you should go naked,” he jested. “Let her play the bongos on that belly blimp of yours.”

“You’re such a fucking tool,” she tutted, but her smile was bright, her eyes alight. “OK! OK, oh my fucking god!” she gasped. “I can’t believe I’m gonna see her little face. Even if it is through a window, even if only for a minute. I’m so excited! Thank you.”

“My pleasure.”

“I can’t wait to see her expression when she sees those pictures. It’s going to be fucking epic.”

“It is,” he agreed. Seth fought to restrain his smirk, watching Faith as she deliberated on the dresses with renewed vigour.

“You’re so good to me.” Faith grinned. “All the stuff you do for me. One day I will do something for you, I promise. Something huge.”

I don’t doubt it.

“This looks amazing, Jess. Great job!”

Jessica looked around at the ‘nursery’ that she and Beth had spent the day creating. It looked better, for certain, but it couldn’t have looked much worse than the dank, brown space it had started as. The dinosaur border certainly added some playfulness to the clinical white walls, but one feature was still off-putting for Jessica.

“Are we doing anything with the cell doors?” she asked.

Beth glanced towards them and shrugged. “Shall we paint them?”

“Um,” Jessica bit her lip. “I thought more along the lines of removing them.”

“No way, they’re a safety feature,” Beth insisted, dragging her nail across the iron bars. The tinny reverberations echoed around the police station basement, emphasising the closed-in feeling that made Jessica shake. “What we have made here, Jess, is essentially a giant playpen. We can leave the little ones here to play or nap, with no worries that they’ll escape, or try to climb those stairs, or worse.” She reached down and scooped up her son, who beamed back up at her. “Even you can’t get through those bars, can you, you little rascal?”

“He escapes?” Jessica repeated, more to distract herself from the noise in her head, rather than out of genuine interest.

“He tries to,” Beth confirmed. “He’s as slippery as his dad; always looking for a way out.” Her face flickered with a flash of sadness that was gone as soon as it appeared. “Paired with that, he’s as charmed, um, as charming as me. Dangerous combination.”

Jessica nodded emptily. Her thoughts that day had been originally been dominated by the knowledge that she’d be dressed like clown vomit and breaking into her former boss’s house in a few hours’ time to try and talk to his ghost. But as the day had worn on and, as usual, barely a call came through to the sleepy Woodland Borough Police Station to break up the hours of decorating, Jessica had been forced to think about her other big issue. Perhaps, arguably, the bigger of the two.

She wondered how her brewing baby would blend. Would they be hot-headed and non-committal like their dad? Would they be quirky and creative like their mum?

Would Jessica be a good mum or would she be like her own mum; trying but never quite succeeding?

Who would she turn to when she needed support? Who would help?

Could she do all this on her own?

The tinny ringing seemed to be getting louder in Jessica’s ears, drowning out her spiralling thoughts. It was only when a soft, damp weight was thrust into her arms that she realised the sound wasn’t coming from the barred door, but from Beth’s pocket.

“Take him for a sec, Jess so I can see who this is,” Beth said. She paused for a moment, admiring the scene she’d created. “Aw, it really suits you, you know?”

Jessica wasn’t so sure. She juggled the squirming child, trying to find a position that felt natural as Beth looked at her phone.

“Crap,” she muttered under her breath. “It’s Saggy Balls. I’d better go take this in the office. You’re OK alone with Willy for five minutes, right? Honestly, he’s an absolute angel.”

“By myself?”

“That is what ‘alone’ means.”

“But—”

“You’ll be fine.”

Jessica tried to protest, but Beth had already abandoned her in the half-painted cell.

She might have been expecting and flooded with hormones, but that didn’t mean that Jessica knew what to do with the tiny person in her arms. She’d had no younger siblings, no younger relatives at all, no experience of caring for anything other than feral cats. Between trying to join the GliTS, being locked in the Tower, covering her tracks at work and desperately trying to keep food down, she hadn’t had much time to read parenting books, either.

She looked at Willy and he looked back with those dark, shark eyes synonymous with the Wangshafts. He certainly didn’t look like an angel, but perhaps looks were deceiving.

“Hello,” she said, clumsily. “I’m Jessica.”

“Blurbla!” he gargled. He reached out a chubby little hand, grasping Jessica’s glasses and attempting to remove them.

“Oh, no, don’t do that!” Jessica gasped. She managed to free her glasses, only for him to grab at her hair, or her earrings instead. “Ow! Oh! OW!”

Willy giggled at this game and began patting Jessica’s face thwarting her every attempt to stop him. Jessica had no idea what to do to make him stop. Trying to grab his flailing arm was like trying to get a hold on a lubricated squid. She eventually caught his wrist, by some miracle, and told him a firm ‘no’.

He stopped, what a relief! But then, oh no! His eyes overflowed. His lower lip trembled.

“Oh, no. No, no, no!” Jessica panicked, imagining Beth’s face if she returned to find her precious child crying and miserable after only two minutes in her care. “Shh!” She danced on the spot, frantically looking around for a distraction. This was a nightmare! What was she thinking?! She couldn’t be a mother! She was a disaster!

Just as she thought she’d have to either give up her spectacles or admit defeat and allow him to pummel her face for his own amusement, he reached up towards her again, but this time he only sniffled, wrapped his small arm around her neck and held on tight.

Oh no, now he was terrified! She had barely registered that she was bouncing and swaying. He probably thought she was going to drop him, and—

“Oh,” Jessica sighed, feeling his gentle breath on her neck, his powder-soft cheek, plump and warm against her own. He settled into the curves of her, naturally finding the space he fit best and stayed there, gently grabbing and releasing the collar of her blouse as he gargled happily.

“Oh.” Jessica smiled, holding him a little closer. The instincts she’d doubted she had finally kicked in as she held tight to the sleepy little one. Her body found a rhythm to rock, in time with his slowing breathing and her own. She cooed softly at his sweet face, enjoying every second of him falling asleep in her arms.

Maybe Beth was right, she thought into the silence as she stilled. Maybe I really can do this.

< Previous Chapter | Index | Next Chapter >

Chapter 3.35 – Question Everything

Jessica jolted herself awake a second before her face would’ve hit her desk. She shook her head and gave herself a hard smack on the cheek, but it was a poor substitute for a full energy bar.

The previous night had taken its toll. After Beth had arrived – with a little old lady in tow, for some reason – she had given her and the GliTS a once over and ordered them to leave the area.

Jessica had eventually made it home in the small hours, having been given a lift back to her place by the GliTS in their painted van that was in no way whatsoever a poor man’s Mystery Mobile. They’d offered to stay the night, to check she was alright, but Jessica had sent them on their way. She’d claimed she was fine. Reminded them that she was a police officer; that homicide was all part of the job. And that after their crazy night, she’d surely sleep like the dead.

She’d spent the night counting and recounting the tassels on her bedspread as her mind replayed the moment she’d found Will over and over. Jessica hadn’t been to any kind of police academy, or had any real training. She’d seen an advert online and applied. Chase had barely interviewed her. And no amount of dead minks or real crime documentaries could’ve prepared her for what it’d be like to set eyes on her first human corpse.

Yawning, she tapped her computer back to life to check again if there had been any progress on today’s breaking news. She didn’t want to look; she didn’t want to see Paul’s face on her screen. She didn’t want to be reminded of seeing Will hanging in that tree. She wanted to forget it all happened.

But she couldn’t.

This morning, on her bus ride, Jessica encountered the usual people. The man who stared at her but didn’t say anything. The woman who had knitted a hat out of bin bags. She’d been afraid to talk to anyone, not trusting herself. Yesterday, these had all been normal people, but today? Were they alive? Were they ghosts? Jessica had no idea.

Had Paul’s ghost been a figment of her imagination? And if it wasn’t, what did that mean?

Jessica scrolled idly through the news; wild speculation was mixed with fact – yet it was the fact that was the strangest. Fighting to keep her eyes open, Jessica was considering drinking a cup of coffee for the first time in years, when she heard the police reception door buzz open.

“Why are you here?”

“Good morning to you, too.”

“No, I mean…”

Beth held up her hand. “Saggy Balls didn’t give me a choice.” She pulled up a chair and fixed Jessica with her steely gaze. “How did you find him, Jess?”

Jessica swallowed hard. “H-he was dead—”

“No shit,” Beth sucked in a breath, “I mean, how did you know he was there? And don’t give me any of that ‘found him by accident’ crap.”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

“You know with all the weird crap going on, I probably would,” Beth said. “Try me. What happened?”

“But if Mum isn’t speaking to ghosts then who is she speaking to?”

“Herself.”

“No, she can’t be. She knows things. They teach her things. They—”

“—have driven her mad. It’s for your mother’s own good, Jessica.”

“I happened upon him by chance,” Jessica explained. “When we were looking for mushroom people.”

Beth sat back and eyed Jessica suspiciously. “And you just happened to know that Paul was deep in the ravine?”

Jessica nodded. “Morag spotted that.”

“I see,” Beth said quietly. “Wasn’t that convenient.”

Jessica nodded again. She tried to unfazed, but she wasn’t sure she was succeeding. “How was your little mission going last night?” she asked, changing subject. “Before I called? Did I blow your cover?”

“My cover?” Beth tensed up.

“Tailing Wilbur?”

“Oh!” Beth gushed; relief evident. “That. Oh, yeah,” she said dismissively, “the old scrote is having an affair.”

“He is?”

“He is. And you should’ve seen the bimbo; some surgeon has made a killing from her,” Beth said, still looking distracted. “My digging on her shows that her previous husband – her third – was a ninety-five-year-old millionaire who died on Saturday.”

“What?” Jessica asked, alarmed. “This Saturday just gone?”

“Some people really don’t hang around do they?” Beth said then paused before she laughed awkwardly. “And some people do. Hang around, that is. Ha!”

At Jessica’s cringing, Beth sucked in a breath, swallowing her laugh. “Too soon?”

Beth ran her fingernail along the wood grain on the desk as Jessica stared at her blank monitor, unsure what to say.

“Drained dry and hung by his guts, like some sort of pig,” Beth whispered. “Wow. He had really pissed someone off, hey?”

“That’s Will. Biggest asshole this side of Windenburg… Save your sympathy; he’s the reason I’m dead.”

“I guess,” Jessica said quietly.

“I wonder if it was April and her friends,” Beth mused, as if making a great revelation. “And, if it was, I wonder what he did to them. Ugh, I shouldn’t immediately go to that but, well, he had form shall we say.” She leaned back in her chair. “His kidney was missing. And they’d mutilated his, y’know.” She whistled and pointed to her lap.

Jessica felt her face grow hot. “Um, what?”

“Yeah. Why would you do that to a man unless he’d, well…” she shrugged. “Some sort of sexual revenge? Not so sure about the kidney; sold on the black market?” Beth laughed. “But even if we narrow the list of suspects down to women he’d screwed and then screwed over, or narrow it down to body thieves, or, crap, even if we narrow it down to body thieves he’d screwed and screwed over, it’s probably still a huge list.”  

By this point, Jessica was hyperventilating. How was she supposed to progress here? What was she supposed to say?

Beth could see her struggling and, mercifully, made her own assumption.

“I’m sorry, Jess,” she said softly. “You’ve had enough of a shock; you don’t need me pouring my nonsense theories on you. I bet you hear enough of them already with your new club. Why don’t you head on home?”

“N-no,” Jessica stammered. “I’m OK. I don’t want to leave you here by yourself.”

“…I really appreciate that. I didn’t think… it’d be this hard.”

The two women sat in silence for a while. The weight of their respective thoughts, worries and preoccupations filling the bland space around them.

“I’m so sorry for your loss, Beth,” Jessica offered, with every sincerity. Will might have been, by all testimony, a horrible man, but loss was never about the one gone, it was always about the ones left plugging their gap. “How… how did everyone take the news?”

Beth blew a strand of hair from her eyes. “Predictably underwhelmingly. That family.” She shook her head. “When I was a kid, back in the village, my pet lizard died and my whole family mourned that thing. We had a burial ritual for Wriggly. Pa carved a little memorial stone and added it to the ancestral wall. My brothers carried the cardboard coffin between them to the pyre. Ma closed shop for the afternoon to join in; she conducted a blessing ceremony. For a lizard.”

Beth drifted into a reverie, speaking from somewhere else. “And yet Wilbur’s complaining about having to stump up for a funeral for his son. His only son. He’ll do it, of course, gotta play his part; but it’s not out of love. There’s no love in that family, Jess. Thankfully, Willy is far too young to understand that Daddy’s gone. Not that the bugger was ever really around. You know, he probably thinks the postman is his daddy.”

Jessica chewed her lip, her next question felt so insensitive, but she just had to know. “Beth, why did you, um…?”

“Marry Will?” Beth finished for her. She fixed with Jessica with an intense stare. “That’s a loaded question.”

“I’m sorry—”

“Quit apologising, Jess. You’re a cop; it’s your job to question everything.” She rocked back in her chair. “I did it for my family.”

“Your family wanted you to marry Will?”

Beth smiled with a sadness. “Actually, most of them didn’t. It’s complicated.”

Silence fell on them again, but this time it was Beth who broke it. “Do you know much about your family, Jess?”

“Not really. I never knew my dad, but my mum says I’m not missing anything.” Jessica shifted in her chair. “It was just me and Mum growing up. She’s…”

…always heard voices, talked to dead people, claimed to be over one hundred.

“…Not very well. Mentally. Hasn’t been for most of my life.”

“That’s a tough break. What about further back? Grandparents?”

Jessica couldn’t explain why at that moment, she felt so offended and so wary. “No, they’re dead,” she answered, thinking hard. “Why do you ask? Is this something to do with my surname? Wilbur said Spoon with distaste when I last spoke to him.”

“He says most things with distaste,” Beth replied, not really an answer. “Wow. I can’t imagine having no family, with just your mother. Still, I suppose you can always talk to your ghosts. Anyway, you look like crap, Jessica. Can I get you coffee?”

“Shouldn’t it be me fetching you coffee?”

“I can fetch my own damn coffee. I need to keep these hands busy before I start a hurricane.”

“A hurricane?”

“Figure of speech.” Beth shrugged. “So, let’s get coffee – and a donut, why not embrace some stereotypes? And then shall we get cracking on that nursery? With all this drama, I might need to bring Willy here sooner rather than later.”

“Sure,” Jessica replied, following Beth from the room, her heart fluttering and her nerves on edge.

“You can always talk to your ghosts.”

Jessica was sure she hadn’t mentioned that.

Caleb cleared his throat, suddenly nervous as he faced her. He focused on her face, staring at her almost unsettlingly, to prevent his attention wandering. “You are the most beautiful thing—”

“I’m not a thing.”

“Ah, right,” he hissed and tried again. “You are the most beautiful woman I have ever laid my eyes on.”

“And…”

“And I will appreciate that beauty from a respectful distance until you are ready to be closer.”

“Aww, Caleb,” Melinda giggled in a way she hoped was flirtatious, although she had absolutely no idea what she was doing. “Do you mean that?”

“Ah,” he scratched his head, breaking his role. “You want me to honest with April, yes?”

Melinda smiled. “Honest but kind.”

“Honest but kind, all right,” he nodded. “Well, actually April, your mother was the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. Holy hell, she was hard to resist.” He faltered when he saw Melinda’s face fall. “But you are a very close second! And ugh!” he growled as Melinda’s shoulders dropped. “Oh, to hell with it, Melinda. I can’t do it. You can’t be honest and kind.”

“You can!” Melinda encouraged him, stopping him before he broke yet another vase in his frustration. “Just stay calm. You were doing OK, until you started leering at her dead Mum; I was beginning to feel special.”

“You were?”

“Yeah, it’s nice to hear someone say you’re pretty, April deserves to hear that, so do say that, just don’t make it all about that. Do reiterate that she has a decision; that was good. Just don’t compare her to her mother. Ever.”

“Noted,” he nodded firmly, as if stamping this instruction in his memory. Buoyed by Melinda’s watery smile, he grinned. “So, if you’re feeling special and respected, mission accomplished, yes? That means I can kiss you now, right?”

“Um, n— Caleb—!”

Melinda wriggled from his hold, thumping his chest until he got the message.

“…I’ve messed up again, haven’t I?”

“Caleb,” Melinda gasped, her lips still tingling from the force of his kiss and her voice raspy from having her lungs swiftly emptied. “Don’t you dare do that to me again.”

“I didn’t kiss you, Melinda,” Caleb made a face as if the idea was revolting. “I kissed ‘April’.”

“I’m answering as ‘April’,” Melinda shuddered. “You know what, I think that’s enough lesson for one day. We need to get back to work.”

For the second time, Melinda swiftly ran away from Caleb having just touched his mouth with her own. And for the second time, it left her feeling very confused. On the one hand, ick, but on the other…

She sprinted down the stairs, into the cauldron room, intending to zip through it back to the studio where she could hide and pretend that she hadn’t sort-of-not-really-kind-of liked kissing her friend’s boyfriend. Again. But she didn’t get that far; stopped by the undeniable metallic scent that was lingering in the basement air. Her feet wandered to the cauldron like they were possessed.

“What is that smell?” she whispered, as if being too loud would break the spell.

“We’ve just added a cup of blood,” April whispered back. “Doesn’t it smell so yummy?”

“Yeah,” Wyatt said, gagging. “Smells great. So, we can add blood to this potion, but not all potions because…?”

“Oh! Oh!” April said excitedly, hopping up and down. “I know this one!” She turned to Melinda, looking sure and knowledgeable. “It’s because this potion only targets the body and not the spirit or soul.”

“Correct!” Wyatt called, rolling the word like a gameshow host. He handed April a cup. “And for your prize, you can lick the beaker.”

“Yay!” April squealed, bringing the vessel to her lips.

Wyatt grimaced, trying not to watch as he stirred the cauldron. “Now, if we’ve done this right, it should start to turn red… yep, there it goes.”

Melinda peered into the cauldron, watching the mixture transition from blush to bright crimson as the room flooded with a hazy red glow.

“It worked!” April enthused.

“Yeah, it worked.”

“So what’s the next step?” April asked eagerly.

“Nothing,” Wyatt said. “One erythrocyte elixir, done and done. No more rationing for you lot and no more wooziness for us.” He dipped his finger into the bowl and sampled a bit. “Shoot, that’s rancid.”

“What happens if we drink it?” Melinda asked, watching the potion bubble gently.

“No idea. Maybe it’ll do nothing, maybe it’ll make you grow a new head. Wanna try?”

“Can we try it on Caleb?” April giggled.

“Heh, yeah, later. First we need to bottle all this up, clean the pot and then we can get started on the cure.”

“I can do that! And ooh! The cure! What’s going in there? First we start with a base potion, yes?”

Wyatt smiled. “Yeah, check you out, potion master.”

“Have you figured out the ingredients you need, yet?” Melinda enquired.

“Not exactly,” Wyatt admitted. “We have a few ideas, like I know that, symbolically, we’ll probably need something to offer to appease death, something that symbolises re-birth, maybe? I dunno. Making a new potion is pretty trial-and-error.”

“It is?” Melinda asked, alarmed. “Do things go wrong?”

“All the time! I’d be very surprised if I don’t blow it up at least a dozen times, but…”

“…That’s the fun part!” April finished his sentence.

“Right, I’m gonna go take a nap before Hoggy comes by later. We’ll all talk, see what combo we’ll try first. Apes, you OK to bottle the rest of this up? The labels are on the shelf there next to Skully.”

“Yes, Wy, no problem.”

“Cheers me dear. Laters,” Wyatt waved and left the room.

“We’ll be cured in no time, Mel,” April said, her voice almost trembling with glee. “Oh! Then maybe I’ll have magic! Oh my goodness! I can’t wait!”

Melinda looked at the wall of blooms, of the cupboards stocked full of gems and rocks and powders and heck-knows-what. She thought of all the ingredients in the world, of all the mind-bending combinations, of how long ‘trial-and-error’ could take. Could it mean that it might not happen at all? After all, Lilith and Sage had known each other for centuries and Lilith hadn’t been cured.

She wanted to tell April not to get her hopes up so high. She watched her humming a cheerful little ditty to herself as she waved her hands around, casting imaginary spells.

She looked so happy; really, genuinely happy.

Melinda couldn’t say anything. She murmured something that sounded like positive agreement and left quietly to rain on her own parade.

< Previous Chapter | Index | Next Chapter >

Chapter 3.29 – Mystery Woman

On Gloria’s request, Beth had followed Wilbur from the frilly dollhouse that was the Wangshaft Manor. The geriatric gent was incredibly paranoid so tailing him had to be subtle. Thankfully, Beth was skilled at avoiding detection.

She, like Gloria, hadn’t expected Wilbur to actually go where he said was going. An incident involving an unattended pool and a burst pool float in his youth had seen Wilbur perpetually terrified of all bodies of water his whole life. She wasn’t surprised when he drove past the sailing club and headed towards the bright lights of the city.

The old geezer instructed his taxi to a poorly-lit part of town, renowned for drug deals and dogging. Beth was only marginally surprised that the wealthy man had ended up here. Since being initiated into the Wangshafts inner circle, she had been privy to a lot of information and nothing about this family was straight.

She was prepared to call it quits here – it was just some dodgy deal that he didn’t want his wife involved in, and Beth had places to be – but when Wilbur stepped out of the car, she immediately realised there was more to it than she thought.

Wilbur was dressed as casually as he ever was; his silver hair was falling loose around the slightly dishevelled fuzz on his face, and he was wearing so much natural musk that Beth was surprised he wasn’t being stalked by a herd of deer.

Well, chase her down and screw her sideways; Gloria was right. He was meeting a woman.

Intrigued to see who it might be, Beth followed him into the body of the city, to the romance festival of all places. He made his way over to a woman who was about forty years his junior and rigid with silicone.

The whole family, for generations, were rotten. Entitled. Wangshafts had built their name and fortune by terrorising this region, instilling fear of the supernatural in all the residents and massaging hate and division. They hunted and exploited ‘filthy, traitorous witches’ throughout the centuries. All because one of them had been left at the altar by a witch somewhere in their history.

Beth had been slowly chipping away at the Wangshafts since her arrival in Windenburg, looking for a way in. A way that became clear when the boisterous bearded arse rocked up at her bar one night.

He leered at her and made crude remarks for her whole shift, and then offered her a ride home in his truck.

The romance festival. It was surreal. Wilbur, like his son, didn’t have a romantic bone in his body, unless throwing a bag of chips at you and telling you that you’d gotten fat was considered romantic.

Beth hated her husband, but she hadn’t entered into this marriage for her own needs. She’d had to achieve it with the help of a few enhanced beers and a mutilated condom – Will was as paranoid as his dad when it came to some things – but she was certain that, when it came to light, she would be forgiven.

It had been foretold.

Their downfall would be from a power within and Beth had taken this message literally.

But marrying Will was not enough to cement her place, not if Wilbur’s number of former spouses was anything to go by.

Beth needed a solid claim to the Wangshaft name.

Beth needed to give them an heir.

She pulled her phone out to take some incriminating pictures of the lovelorn fool and his blow-up doll. She wouldn’t confront him, not yet, she’d give him some time to come to his senses.

She knew the saggy octogenarian well enough to know when he was hurting, and Will’s disappearance, as well as Ralf’s eternal silence, had stabbed him right in his most tender place – his pride. He’d be looking for any way to build himself up again and mystery woman was it, for now.

Besides, he’d never divorce Gloria. She knew too much. He’d simply make her disappear – or make Beth do it.

Satisfied that she’d gotten all she could from this evening, Beth checked her watch. Crap. She was really late.

She sprinted off down an alleyway in her squeaky trainers and glanced around to make sure no one would see her. Fortunately, spinning into the requisite black outfit was something that even a non-witch could do, so on the tail of this she could quickly recast.

She threw her hand into the air, summoning a wave of energy readily from the space around her and picturing the quaint little clearing that she should have been in an hour ago.

The strangest thing about transportalate was how your awareness of space materialised before your body did. You’d think it would be the other way around, but Beth had always been grateful that she could scope her surroundings before she landed there.

For the briefest second, she was a fly on the wall, watching newly-fledged coven member, Wyatt Harper, pout and moan that Beth’s absence was so unfair as his mother tutted and told him to grow up.

“Sorry I’m late,” Beth offered as her voice box become something tangible. “Family issues.”

Beth didn’t have to apologise for lateness, nor offer an excuse; as High Priestess, the coven followed her lead and trusting her was a given, but that didn’t mean she had to be arse about everything. She watched as the other members of the coven turned to face her and slowly bowed their heads; a greeting and a confirmation.

“Have you cleared the area?” she asked of Sage, who gently nodded. “Very well. Let’s begin.”

The witches gathered in a circle around the fire and Beth took a position on the outside, facing north. Without a word the trees stilled, the birds stopped singing; she could feel the thrum of energy in the soft ground beneath her feet and the collective sighs of her kindred spirits.

Tomorrow she would resume her worrying about how Wilbur’s affair and Will’s absence might mess up her plans. Tonight, she needed to be present. She reached her hands towards the brightness of the moon and prepared to cast her circle.

The blackness had closed in around Jessica.

Every tiny sound was amplified and all of her depth perception and her awareness was lost to the stillness of the night. They had a rhythm, these background noises that the word was usually too busy to hear; the movement of the breeze, the crackle of the fire…

…the guttural growl that rang out and seemed to surround her.

Jessica waited, frozen to the spot, trying to pinpoint the source of this sound. There weren’t any wild bears in the part of the world, but that didn’t mean it couldn’t be one that had escaped, perhaps from the travelling circus. But then, would it be tame? She doubted it would be friendly, having been chained and expected to perform tricks for its whole life. Maybe it had killed its circus family and was rampaging, seeking revenge. But then, what would it be doing all the way out here? And did bears growl like that? Did bears growl at all? Jessica couldn’t think as the fringes of her ignited with panic.

The growl came again. Lower, slower.

It sounded almost canine, but bigger than your average dog. The locals claimed there were wolves, even though the local wildlife trust dismissed it. Could it be a wolf? What were you supposed to do when faced with an angry wolf? Run? Probably not as it would instinctually chase, wouldn’t it? Should she lie down? Play dead? Would it fear the fire?

Maybe she could distract it with food. What food did she have? Wolves were scavengers, weren’t they? Would it appreciate her offering of celery sticks and houmous? Probably not.  

Jessica could hear a solitary male voice, a new one. He sounded like he was cracking jokes, but she couldn’t make out any of the words. She got to her feet, facing the direction of this voice. It is just a man, she assured herself, a man walking his dog.

In the middle of the woods. In the middle of the night. Totally normal.

The bushes before her rustled.

“Hello?” she dared herself to whisper. “Nice night for a walk, isn’t it?”

Was it just her imagination, or did everything get a little quieter? The stick in her hand snapped as she clenched it hard in her sweaty palms. She swallowed. Whoever, or whatever it was knew she was here now. She might as well do what she did best: talk.

“I guess it depends who you ask, I suppose, as to whether you’d agree it was a nice night. On the one hand, it’s dry and pretty warm, but on the other it’s just too dark to see the stars. I was watching the moon a while ago, but even that seems to be hidden by clouds now—”

Jessica stopped abruptly as the male voice whispered, “You shouldn’t be here. None of you should be here.”

“I shouldn’t be here,” she repeated, the dread weighing her down like a lead balloon. “Wait, none of us should be here?”

“Too damn right, we shouldn’t!” Pixie announced, leaping from the bushes.

All these colours emerging from the pitch black took a minute for Jessica to fully comprehend.

“W-what are you doing here?” she managed. “I thought I had to spend the night alone.”

Morag laughed and shook her head. “Oh my gawd, Jess! We weren’t really going to let you camp out here alone!”

“No way! This place is full of danger,” Pixie agreed. “You need to be in the presence of at least two fully qualified GliTS members at all times. This was just a test, to see if you were really serious about wanting to join us. We get a lot of people claiming they want to be one of us, but we can’t risk admitting any old passing loon; it would ruin our integrity!”

“We’ve been watching you the whole time!” Yibbo smiled. “You are so funny when you’re freaked out, you little scaredy-cat, you!”

“But I… there was a growl.”

Yibbo winked and emitted a growl very similar to the one Jessica had previously heard. “That was me, I couldn’t resist. Convincing, isn’t it?  I think I might be part werewolf!”

“Alas, that one we have proven; werewolves don’t exist,” Morag sighed.

“And doesn’t the Watcher know it,” Yibbo lamented. “Anyway, come on now Jessica. There’s a shiny hat with your name on it back at base – let’s get out of here!”

“Yeah, Jess,” came that male voice again with a mocking lilt “Let’s get out of here! I wish I could get out of here. This place gives me the creeps but, y’know, I did die here.”

Jessica didn’t usually pay a lot of attention to her inner voices, unless they were her own one. Maybe it was because this somewhat flippant one was the only one she had right now, it was clearer than those she usually heard or because it had mentioned dying, but Jessica found herself looking around for whom the voice belonged to, willing it to belong to someone external.

And, for once it appeared, it was.

Jessica was mildly startled by the appearance of this pale man wearing nothing but a pair of boxer shorts and a lazy smile, but then he was standing next to four of the most oddly-dressed folk. If anything, he seemed to blend in.

“Hey there, Poodle Skirt,” he crooned to Jessica as he rubbed his hands down his pasty, naked torso in an exaggerated ‘come and get me’ way. “You single?”

“Um, sorry do I know you?”

The three behatted GliTS looks puzzled.

“Are you winding us up, Jess?” Morag asked. “Of course you know us.”

“No, I’m obviously not talking to you three,” Jessica clarified, gesturing to Yibbo’s left. The three girls looked around, as did almost-naked and deathly pale guy.

“Then… then who are you talking to?” Pixie asked quietly.

“Yeah, Jess, who are talking to?” boxer shorts guy asked mockingly before the penny dropped and his face lit up. “Wait a second… are you talking to me?”

“Yes, of course I’m talking to you,” Jessica said, exasperated. “I’m talking to him. The guy behind Yibbo; in the boxer shorts.”

“T-there’s a guy behind me in b-boxer shorts?” Yibbo asked frantically. “Where?!”

“There’s no one there,” Morag said softly. “Jess, are you OK?”

Jessica laughed, finally understanding. “Yeah, good one! Is this the real initiation? Dress up your buddy up and see how I react to a ‘ghost’? You got me again!”

“A g-ghost?” Yibbo squeaked. “There’s a g-g-ghost here?!”

The whole quartet before Jessica broke into various squeals, screams and shouts. Three of them were terrified, but one was definitely not.

“You can really see me?” boxer shorts guy asked again with effervescent glee, to which Jessica could only nod as it dawned on her what might be happening.

“Finally!” he shouted, hopping up and down. Jessica noticed then, for the first time, how his limbs moved through the branches of the shrub he was stood in without disturbing them; how his landing made no sound.

No. It couldn’t be. It couldn’t. Jessica’s mother had always claimed that she could talk to dead people and now it appeared that Jessica had developed the same delusions.

“Someone can see me!” the guy shouted over the GliTS panicky wails. “Hey! Jess, right? I’m Paul! Sorry for all the flirting – it gets real boring out here now I can’t pick up a chainsaw. Oh my god, it’s been so long since I spoke to someone. Or at least since they spoke back. Finally. FINALLY. Jess – you owe me nothing but you might be my only chance – will do you me a huge favour?”

< Previous Chapter | Index | Next Chapter >

Chapter 3.20 – Deadbeat Dad

Wyatt had arrived back home after his fruitless training session with Broof, to have April latch to him like a limpet. She was bubbling with excitement to work on the potion again, to learn about all the different ingredients, to theorise about what might work in the cure potion and to ask him a hundred questions about a hundred topics. It might have been annoying to some people, but it was just the distraction Wyatt needed. If he dwelled any more on the impenetrable vault that was his bearded buddy, he might actually go crazy.

The potion was still in a resting phase and would be for most of the day. There was nothing to do there, much to April’s disappointment. Caleb was manning the store, Melinda was in the studio, Broof had gone to lick his wounds and Sage was busying about preparing the rituals for the following night’s coven meet. She had politely requested that Wyatt take April from under her feet, so they’d been hanging out in his room.

April had been a little upset at first; apparently Caleb had been moping since The Talk the previous night, and Melinda had been ignoring her. Wyatt would try and act as peacekeeper later but woah – these guys were exhausting, although that might just be the blood loss.

April lightly skimmed the file over her nails as Wyatt watched; both silent during a natural lull in their flowing conversation. Everything about her was so delicate, so gentle, he thought, wondering again if Broof was wrong about the whole thing. He must be. This sweet, refined girl could not be Wyatt’s daughter. No way. She was softly blowing the dusty residue from her fingertips and elegantly fanning her hand to scrutinise her efforts; he was trying not to fart.

“How did you meet Mother, Wyatt?” April asked. “Were you together very long?”

Wyatt shifted on the bed, uncomfortable for a few reasons. “You ask a lot of questions, don’t you Apes?”

“I’m sorry,” she mumbled, dropping her chin.

“Nah, it’s OK,” he said quickly. Man, he hated these little dips she kept having. She reminded him of a timid puppy in a shelter, cowering in her corner every time the door opened and it was killing him. “I always ask a lot of questions, too. How did I meet your mum? How did I meet your mum? Well…”

He wanted to say ‘I’m not sure I ever did’, but that sounded awful. “I genuinely don’t remember,” he admitted. “I wasn’t in such a great place, around that time.”

“Oh?” April asked looking at him with those, big curious eyes. “Why not?”

“My dad, your um… your…” Why was this so hard?

“Grandfather Warren?” April asked, coming alive.

“Yeah,” Wyatt conceded. He groaned quietly as his tormented gut rolled around, threatening to blow. “Ugh. We were really close, my dad and I. When he died, even though we knew it was coming and, like, provisions had been made and everything, my mum was devastated and sort of closed off and Hoggy – well, he was wrapped up in his own grief and we got in with the wrong crowd, I suppose.”

Broof was in the wrong crowd?”

“Not, like, a terrible crowd,” he mumbled. “Just wasters. High all the time,” he clarified at her blank look.

“Was Mother in that crowd?” April asked, astounded. Wyatt pouted a little; she clearly had no problem believing he was in that crowd and that made him feel all manner of rubbish.

“Nah, but the place we hung out in was in the basement of a pizza shop, near a studio lot where they shot low-budget movies. The crew and actors would find their way to our basement a lot. And at the time well, your mum was in that scene, so I guess that’s how our paths crossed.”

“So… you and Mother had a one-night stand, but you don’t really remember it – or her – because you had taken lots of drugs,” April deduced, nodding her cute head.

It sounded so gross when she said it. Wyatt felt his face burn. “Yeah. I know. Not cool. I’m sorry if you were expecting some epic love story—”

“I wasn’t,” she sighed. “I think Mother might have done that kind of thing a lot. Oh!” she gasped. “Forget I said that!”

“Said what?” Wyatt winked.

April stared at him for a second before she understood. She relaxed somewhat, dropping her hands back to her lap and folding them neatly, before tilting her head back up. “Did Mother really make crappy movies?” she asked, surprised.

“Oh yeah. Loads of them! Didn’t you know?”

“No! Oh my gosh! I thought A Kind Heart was her first movie.”

“That blockbuster about the dying kid? Nah, that was just the first ‘good’ one she made. The first movie she ever made was called The Mutant Gorilla from Hull. An absolute classic. The critics raved about it. Not.”

April laughed. “Mutant gorilla? What part did she play?”

“I think she was ‘woman in bikini #2’. She had one line which was ‘Take me, gorilla man!’

“Oh my god!” April squealed. “Really?!”

“Yep. In fact I think I have that movie on my laptop if you wanna see— ah, wait, I set fire to that, didn’t I?”

“What?” April asked, still laughing. “You set fire to your laptop? Why?”

“Left Caleb alone with it for like, fifteen minutes and he somehow managed to download a dozen viruses.”

“A dozen viruses? How on earth—?”

“Dodgy porn,” Wyatt replied without thinking.

“Oh,” April whispered, sinking again.

Wyatt bit his lip. Oops. “Lots of people watch that stuff, Apes,” he explained, trying to guess what she was thinking. “It’s not ‘cause he doesn’t like you or anything—”

“It’s not that,” April said quietly. She rubbed her eye even though Wyatt could see no tears. “In fact, I’d rather he did that than… you know.” She fidgeted on her seat, twisting her skirt around her finger. “He’s slept with ten thousand women,” she said quietly.

“He has?” Wyatt tried to sound surprised. “I am surprised!”

“Yes,” April whispered. “That’s a lot, isn’t it? It’s not normal, is it?”

“Uh, well he is what, three hundred? So that’s what… one a week? That’s not a lot. I mean, it is a lot, but it’s not a lot.”

“One a week sounds like a lot to me. It feels so disrespectful,” April said softly, playing with a button on her skirt. “How many women have you slept with, then?”

Damn, he was digging a huge hole here. He swallowed hard, torn between not wanting to lie to her and not wanting her to think even more badly of him. “A few.”

“A few? Or quite a few?”

“Quite a few if you add in the men, yeah.”

April lifted her head at this, gazing at him with a mixture of wonder and disgust. “You sometimes sleep with men?”

In that moment, there was something about her. Something he really didn’t like. “Yeah,” he said, slightly more angrily than he’d meant to. “I guess I just don’t really have a preference.”

“How can you not have a preference?”

He tried not to get riled up; tried to convince himself that this was just an innocent question. But it sure felt like an accusation and Mother Earth knew this wasn’t the first time he’d heard it.

“I mean… I dunno. I get attracted to all kinds of people for all kinds of reasons, y’know? I don’t rule someone out based on what might be in their pants – that’d be such a waste.”

April frowned at him and shook her head. “That doesn’t make any sense. Boys and girls aren’t just different because of their, ahem, parts. It’s the whole package. Boys are masculine and girls are feminine. Everyone has a preference.”

This was starting to get to him. They’d been getting on so well that it felt like a sucker punch to the gut— uh oh.

“If you say so,” Wyatt shrugged.

April blinked. “You don’t think that’s true?”

“No. Do you? Or are you just repeating something someone told you?”

April cocked her head, staring at him. “There are certain ways that ladies and gentlemen should behave and dress and anything else is unacceptable,” she said, sounding very much not like her usual self all of a sudden and not actually answering his question. “And one of those fundamental rules is that men should like women, and women should like men.”

“OooooK. What about… um… Mel?”

“What about Mel?”

“She doesn’t like men.”

“Of course she likes men. All women like men. She just hasn’t found one that she really likes yet,” April insisted. “And she’s very feminine.” April wrinkled her nose. “Wyatt! That’s disgusting!”

Busted. “All women like men?” he repeated, his laughter causing the rhythm against the mattress to become staccato.

“You’re gross, Wy.” April grimaced, making him once again feel like a low life. “And yes, we do. Girls can’t love girls.”

His chin snapped up so fast it actually alarmed her. “Woah! What the heck?! Girls can definitely love girls, Apes. Who told you they can’t? Your mother?”

April didn’t say anything. She didn’t need to.

“Yeah. I’ll bet she told you all this crap, didn’t she? Your mother was wrong. Why the heck would she tell you that?”

April stared at him a moment and then turned away.

Damn. Losing her. “She can’t hurt you anymore, Apes.”

Wyatt could sense that he’d pushed too far. He decided to change track before he lost her completely.

“What do you want to do next?” he asked. “Still got an hour or two until we need to do anything else with the elixir.”

“You could show me some magic?” she requested, brightening like the sun.

 “I’d love to, but I’m not really supposed to do that.”

“No problemo,” April sang. She looked around the room, her gaze landing on the tiny television. “We could watch a movie?”

“Excellent plan, my fanged friend,” Wyatt grinned. “We can’t watch them on that old thing, though,” he thumbed towards the rusted set. “We shouldn’t be too much under Mum’s feet if we’re in the snug, though,” he said, tapping his chin. “Big TV in there, too.”

“Oh, yes! That sounds amazing!”

“Awesome. What movie do you want to watch?”

“One of Mother’s early ones?”

Not even a hesitation. He tried to smile. Everything that Sandy had done to her and April still missed her and longed to see her, if only on a screen. Meanwhile, he was just proving himself, over and over, to be a deadbeat dad. An overgrown kid. Pond scum.

“Probably won’t be able to find The Mutant Gorilla from Hull, but we’ll definitely find something classically awful; Help! My Grandma is a Werefish! perhaps, or Gilda Bubblebutt and the Zombie Cheerleaders.”

“Those sound shockingly awful!” April beamed. “Did Mother play Gilda?”

Wyatt sighed. “No, Apes. She didn’t have a leading role in any of those movies. In Gilda, she didn’t even get a line and she dies in the first ten minutes.”

Gilda Bubblebutt it is then,” April said, grinning from ear to ear. “I can’t wait for Mother to just be silent for once! I hope she gets eaten by a cheerleader!”

The sound of Jessica’s booted footfalls echoed around the corridor, painfully loud in comparison to Beth’s soft trainer ones. Jessica had never been in this part of the station before – part of her wondered what on earth Beth had been doing in here in the first place.

“Ta-da!” Beth announced when they approached what Jessica believed was a pair of disused holding cells, although in the pitch darkness, she couldn’t really tell what she was looking at. “What do you think? Wouldn’t this make the cutest space for a nursery?”

Yes, Jessica thought, if your offspring is hell spawn, which yours possibly is.

“Um…” Jessica hesitated, looking between the iron bars and her enthusiastic superior, as her vision slowly adjusted. “It’s a bit dark and gloomy, don’t you think?”

“Well, it is now,” Beth huffed. “Visualise the space, Jessica! Open up that window there, remove a few irons bars here and then all it needs is—”

“A DIVORCE!” came a cry from above them. “HE WANTS A DIVORCE!”

Jessica and Beth exchanged a concerned look before both ran back towards the stairs that took them up the main station, where the very last person Jessica had expected to see in this place was screaming at the top of her lungs.

“A divorce?! After everything I have given that man! The best years of my life! My youth! My second virginity!” Gloria cried, pausing for a soul-shattering scream. “He wants a DIVORCE?!”

“Don’t we all?” Beth snorted.

“On what grounds?” Jessica asked, alarmed.

Irreconcilable differences! I ask you! But I know him, the shark, I KNOW HIM! His wandering eye is elsewhere! The scallywag! The CAD!” She screamed again and stamped her expensive-looking shoe into the linoleum. “If he thinks Gloria Ersatz will roll over quietly and be replaced by some… some… overinflated floozy, he has another thing coming!”

“Back up, back up,” Beth said. “He genuinely wants a divorce? Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure!” Gloria whined. “He announced it at breakfast – in front of the staff! How humiliating!” she groaned, sliding a loose hair back into her coiffure with her fingernail. “You need to help me, Beth! He’ll have me out on my rear with nothing like… like… a servant!” she gasped. “You can’t let him do that to me! Imagine the prize slag he’ll replace me with! Imagine her looking after Willy! We can’t allow it! I need your help and I need it now!”

Beth chewed the inside of her cheek, looking annoyed. Jessica wasn’t really sure what was going on, but this hysterical woman was giving her the mother of all headaches.

“You believe he might be committing adultery?” she asked.

“Hark at her, acting all professional,” Gloria snorted. “Of course he is! He’s a wildly attractive and very rich man! He’s a magnet for gold-diggers! And he has been simply distraught since William vanished – he’ll be soaking up pity wherever it comes from, the old fool! He said he was going sailing tomorrow night. Sailing! With his thalassophobia! Never been on a boat in his life – wouldn’t know his sail from his… whatever other components boats have! He’ll be meeting her then; I just know it! Tail him for me, Beth. Tomorrow night. Get me the evidence I need to take his sorry tush to the cleaners!”

“I can’t do tomorrow night,” Beth stated. “Jessica will have to go.”

Jessica faltered. “Does this fall under my job description?”

“It does now.”

Jessica pondered for a while. The last thing she wanted was to get caught even deeper in this mess. A divorce was probably the best thing for Gloria and Wilbur. Not that she’d say that, in her present company. She was kooky, not insane.

Of course!

“I can’t do tomorrow night, either. I have a GliTS meeting. It’s very important.”

“So you are one of them,” Beth said. “I knew it!”

“Yep. In pursuit of crooks by day and truth by night. Tomorrow we are looking for evidence of, um, mushroompeople. They only come out on one night a year, and that night is tomorrow.”

“How fun for you.” Beth narrowed her eyes at Jessica before looking back at Gloria, who was wearing her ‘I can smell poo’ face again.

“Fine,” Beth conceded. “I suppose I can be a little late for my appointment. I’ll stalk Saggy Balls. Gloria, I trust you can watch Willy for the night?”

“My pleasure,” Gloria said, actually sounding quite happy about that, to Jessica’s surprise. “But are you sure they won’t mind you being a little late? With everything that’s going on—“

“I’m sure,” Beth cut in curtly. “And what choice do I have? Can’t very well interrupt Jessica and co. in their pursuit of truth now, can we?”

< Previous Chapter | Index | Next Chapter >

Chapter 3.15 – Goblins

The break room at the Woodland Borough Police Department’s station was every bit as uninspiring as the rest of the building and yet Jessica’s imagination was running wild.

The young officer – no, deputy – was sipping her decaffeinated green tea and staring through her sandwich on a break from doing nothing.

In order to survive a potential assassination attempt by the Wangshafts, owing to her potential knowledge about some potentially covered up missing person files, Jessica was about to potentially join a group of conspiracy theorists. They were, she gathered, also investigating the missing person cases, but were clearly so far off the mark with their theories and of such irreputable character that they posed no risk to the Wangshafts.

Joining the GliTS would allow Jessica freedom, of sorts, to investigate. All of that she could get her head around.

The thing she couldn’t get her head around was why a group of people – who thought that the forests of Forgotten Hollow were full of ghouls who sought to harm all who entered – would have spend a night in the forest as their initiation test.

Surely, if they really believed their ideas – and they really seemed to – they wouldn’t dream of doing that? Perhaps this was a test of commitment to the cause or a willingness to question everything she was told, or maybe even a way to show that she had gumption.

But what if this was the test? Was she expected to refuse if she truly believed the forest was dangerous?

Of course there was the more sinister option, that this was a way to get rid of her, but Jessica was not quite jaded enough to give that one much thought, no matter how loudly they shouted at her.

Jessica idly traced a finger over her abdomen. She spent a lot of time doing this lately, like it was being drawn there by her magnetic baby. She wasn’t afraid of spending a night in the forest but she was afraid of getting this decision wrong.

As her mind fluttered back to her silent surroundings and her untouched lunch, the inside sound intensified. She reached for the television remote. Jessica was not a huge television fan, but it was much needed tangible noise right now, a distraction.

As usual, the news channel was the first to display; Reb Porter’s ever-smug face filling the small screen.

“…at Sandy’s understated monument, located in this most modest resting place. Among the people she helped and loved, as she would have wanted and… holy moly! Is that—? It is! Broof Hogwash, former butler to the late Sandy Moss. Mr. Hogwash! Mr. Hogwash! Reb Porter, The News Channel—“

“Yes, I know who you are.”

“What brings you to the resting place of your former employer?”

“Actually I’m not—”

“Is it your guilty conscience?”

“Uh—”

“What do you make of Travis’s confession? Was he the abusive monster we all believe him to be? Why didn’t you stop him?”

“Please, leave me alone. I’m just here to visit—”

Jessica looked quizzically at the suddenly blank screen. She was sure she hadn’t touched the remote. Probably a power cut, she reasoned, looking around to see if anything else had shorted and noticing Beth.

“Why do you watch that crap? Aren’t things depressing enough already?” She pulled up a spare seat and plonked herself into it, eyeing up Jessica’s sandwich. “Is that a BLT?”

Jessica had only been working with Beth for one morning, but she already had a headache. It felt as if every other word that came out of her new boss’s mouth was a mild curse and the force at which she said everything made Jessica wince like she was being hit. “Faux BLT. Do you want it? Everything is making me vomit lately.”

“Been there,” Beth said. “And no thanks; the thought of fake bacon makes me want to vomit. Crap, I’d better not be up the duff again; having one kid with that womanising twat is enough.”

Jessica wasn’t sure she wanted to sit here and make conversation with Beth about her absent husband; she was still carefully considering how bonkers she could appear to be without being fired, and thought minimising contact with the Wangshafts was probably a good option. She pushed her chair back and Beth eyed her suspiciously.

“Where are you going? You’ve got ten minutes of break time left, Jessica.”

“I thought I’d get back to my desk.”

“And do what? Bugger all ever happens in this district.”

It does, but you make it disappear, Jessica thought, remembering the big pile of missing person files that had apparently been filed and archived while she was away and now were nowhere to be found.

Beth beamed. “Guess I shouldn’t complain that there’s no crime though, right? Great place to bring up a kid, the Woodland Borough. Glimmerbrook, Windenburg…. safest place there is, Windenburg. Well, unless you’re a cop.”

Jessica wanted to bring up the third town in the district that Beth had conveniently left out; Forgotten Hollow, which was anything but safe. She wanted to ask about the mispers, about Chase, about Ralf, about what Beth knew but her senses told her not to take this bait.

“It’s so good that it’s safe!” she gushed, with a powdered sugar coating so thick she almost choked on it. “Only goblins and trolls to worry about. And the government, of course. Those scoundrels in office, pulling all the strings. Hiding the aliens,” she added in a stage whisper. Was that too far?

“Aliens?”

“And, um, fairies.” Definitely too far. It was a fine balance, this mask of madness.

Beth looked bemused. “You’re a weird one, Jess, but I like you. Hey, I was wandering the corridors earlier and found this unused holding cell and you know what I thought that’d be perfect for?”

Jessica’s mind raced. Imprisonment. Imprisoning me? Did I say something wrong? Don’t tell me goblins and fairies actually do exist… her head was spinning. She hadn’t finished knitting that rug yet. She never did get around to trying that peanut cookie recipe. She was too young to die!

“Crapping hell, Jess, you’re even paler than usual,” Beth gasped. “Eat your sandwich; that’s an order.”

Jessica stared at the sandwich in front of her. Was it poisoned?

No, this was madness. She was paranoid. She took a bite.

“A nursery,” Beth nodded, completing a sentence Jessica hadn’t heard the start of.

“A nursery?” Jessica repeated, chewing slowly, hoping that she came across as interested and not confused.

“Yeah,” Beth sighed. “I think this place has been stuck in the seventies long enough. If we’re running the place, we’re running it right. Plus, I don’t like leaving my Little Willy with Gloria and Old Saggy Balls.”

“Your little what?”

“My son, Willy. Gloria looks after him during the day. He can’t talk yet, but I don’t want the pair of them teaching him all their warped ideas about relationships and society. No, I want him here, with me, learning about fly tipping reports and filing and maybe goblins.” She laughed and winked at Jessica. “And if we have a nursery here, when your little one arrives,” she inclined her head towards Jessica’s lower half,” you won’t have to worry about finding a creche or taking time off.”

So you can always keep an eye on me? “No, I guess not.”

“Plus, they’re probably gonna have it in their blood, right? Police genes, I mean. From both you and former deputy Crooks.”

Don’t bite. “I guess so.”

“You guess a lot, don’t ya? Don’t guess, Jess. Make solid decisions and deal with them. Now, eat that damn sandwich.”



Sage very much liked Chuck. It was highly unlikely that anyone with half a heart, even an undead one, wouldn’t warm to the darling teddy bear of a man. She, he and Lilith had enjoyed a civilised drink together in the tavern next door to her store, where he had been fully informed of the situation and the true identity of all actors.

Disclosing oneself to a non-witch was forbidden in all but exceptional circumstances but what did that matter when she was housing vampires?

Chuck had taken it all surprisingly well; Sage had been prepared to demonstrate a small spell if it had been required, but it hadn’t. The sweet man was quite willing to believe what he was told – he had questions, naturally, but had been most content by the time Sage made her leave to head back to the house. Lilith hung back, to keep Chuck company.

That woman. Did she ever learn?

Oh, she wanted to invite Chuck to her home and she wanted to reunite this soft-hearted gentleman with his daughter. But Melinda had explicitly asked Sage not to do that. She was not ready for that. If anything at all had gone wrong with that reunion like it had with their prior one, it would be devastating and not just because poor Chuck had been drunk from a number a times over the past week. She was surprised that he could walk!

Back in the sanctuary of her store, closed as it was now late afternoon, she noted how many blooms were missing and smiled to herself. He may be a promiscuous, clueless monster, but Caleb was a very fine salesman!

The stairs creaked almost as much as her knees as Sage descended into the basement store. When she’d left, April had been whittering excitedly to Wyatt about zombies and he had been uncharacteristically quiet. She had clocked a large plastic bottle of water by his feet and assumed that was the missing ingredient for his potion.

Sage was relieved that it appeared to have not exploded upon addition to the simmering cauldron, of course. Her issues with this whole thing stemmed from the method.

Wyatt was prone to cut corners – his father had been the same.

“I’m streamlining the process, Sage.”

“You’re ruining the sacred nature of witchcraft.”

“I’m optimising time,” Warren would insist. “Time that we can fill with… other endeavours.”

Oh, gracious. She missed him so.

Where was she? Oh, right yes – cutting corners was one thing, but these modern-fangled techniques were polluting the art of magic. Why would anyone bother with the arduous 56-day-long ritual of cleansing water if some factory was producing it for them and shipping it with next day delivery? Witches today. The world today. So instant. Where was the devotion?

“How is potion-making going?” she asked politely, peering into the pot.

“It’s great!” April gushed. “It’s so much fun!”

Sage disagreed. Potion-making was tiring and she was more than happy to let Wyatt do it. “Are you a potion master now, April?” Sage joked.

“She’s not far off,” Wyatt mumbled. “She’s a natural.”

“I am?”

“Yeah.”

“Of course she is; chip off the old block,” Sage said smoothly, ignoring Wyatt’s shaking head.

“Potions are amazing! Wy was just telling me about the potion that temporarily turns you green. That sounds so funny! We’re going to mix that up afterwards and give some to Caleb.”

“No, Apes,” Wyatt said, his voice firmer than usual, but not one Sage could take seriously. “That’s a misuse of potions—”

“I’d allow it,” Sage sang. “Right my dear, are you nearly done here? We need that little talk I mentioned this morning.” The girl’s face instantly fell, taking her shoulders and spirit with it.

“We’re done here. This needs to rest overnight anyway,” Wyatt said, a stifled laugh lifting the ends of his words. “Off you go Apes, have your very important talk.”

Sage turned on her heel towards the kitchen, hearing April’s heels click against the stone floor as she passed Wyatt. She swore she heard him whisper something to her that she answered with a squeak.

In the kitchen, Melinda was at the sink and furiously scrubbing something as Caleb loitered at the counter, glaring at the girl’s back.

“Quit glaring at me,” Melinda hissed. “It’s not my fault that she— Sage!” she exclaimed, dropping her washing. “You’re back! Did you meet dad? Is he OK? Did he mention Mum?

“He’s fine. And so is your mother,” Sage paused here, wondering how much to say. Was it her place to tell the girl that her father and mother were having some difficulty seeing eye to eye? That Chuck had taken residence in a hotel until Babs came round? Sage thought back to Lilith making puppy eyes at the man and knew that any spouse in their right mind would see that as a threat.

Still, she didn’t know the dynamics, she didn’t know the history. It wasn’t her place. “They’re fine.”

Melinda nodded, letting out an empty breath and turned back towards the sink. “Sage, what paint do you use?  I can’t get these brushes clean.”

“Leave them my dear,” Sage insisted. “Melinda, head on through to the sitting room and wait for me, will you? We three need a little talk.”

Melinda and Caleb exchanged a definite and heated glance before Melinda asked, “Is everything OK?”

“Yes,” Sage replied, staring at Caleb who who dutifully took ownership for a potentially incriminating conversation involving his fledglings, as she’d expected him to.

“What do you want to talk to them about?”

“Sex.”

The two girls, April less so, immediately seized up, looking anywhere but at her while Caleb guffawed.

“That’s not necessary,” he managed after he was laughed out. “I know about sex.”

“No, Caleb, you do not. Sitting room, now.”

The girls had already left, eager to get their burning cheeks out of the room but Caleb stood firm, still grinning. He cocked his head and Sage could feel it – the tug of his allure. “Is this a hands-on sex lesson, Sage?”

“I… I, uh,” came a stammer from behind her that most definitely belonged to Wyatt and thankfully pulled her from the daze she almost slipped into. “It’s not is it?”

“Of course it’s not,” Sage tutted. “But this whole attitude,” she waggled her finger in the face of the yellow-shirted corpse before her, “is exactly the reason why we need this talk. Your sister might’ve let you get away with this abhorrent behaviour, Caleb, but in my house you live by my rules and I do not tolerate this attitude. Into the sitting room. Now.”

Caleb swirled his tongue around his fangs, his eyes glowed blue at the challenge. She could tell that he was thinking twice about snapping her like a twig, but ultimately sense won out and he skulked from the room after the girls.

“Woah,” Wyatt sighed, fanning himself. “Is there, like, a potion to stop the effects of that thing he does?”

“No, or I’d put it in the water supply,” Sage muttered, still staring at the closed door Caleb had exited through.

“Awesome. Right well, I’m gonna go hang out in my room for a while. Call me when dinner’s ready.”

“Actually,” Sage said, turning towards him as the rose tint faded from her vision. “I think it might be best if you sit in this chat. For back up.” She smiled.

The colour drained from Wyatt’s face as he realised what she was asking. “But Mum, I’ve heard this talk a hundred times and every time I still want to curl up and die.”

“Is this the birds and the bees presentation?” Broof said, entering the room. “Sage, forgive my intrusion. I would have rung the bell, but the shop door was open.”

“Quite alright and yes. Maybe you can sit in, Broof? Moral support and a second caster should things go awry.”

“Oh, I… um,” Broof said looking hopelessly to Wyatt who whined and kicked the bar stool.

“Ugh! Oh my god! I’m gonna have to sit and listen to it again! My life is hell!” he stomped off to the closet to retrieve the well-used flipchart before Sage could even ask him to.

“It’s not that bad—”

“It’s literal hell!”

< Previous Chapter | Index | Next Chapter >

Chapter 3.07 – Something Stinks

Warning: Melinda’s retinas might not be the only ones burning! So bright!

Oooookay. Well, that was the weirdest thing Melinda had ever had happen to her and there had sure been a lot of weird things happening to her lately.

She had fought hard to get a barely-conscious April down the stairs and to the front door, feeling her friend tense up as they approached it. Then, as she wondered what the heck to do next, the room had been filled with a lurid green light that had gradually gotten brighter and brighter until all she could see were the wiggly veins in the back of her eyes.

Something warm and soothing bathed her lower limbs, rising up her torso, like wading into a warm sea. Melinda felt it seeping through her skin then flowing back out, almost sentient, almost hesitant as if whatever it was couldn’t decide whether to stay inside her, or not.

She’d clutched April, using April’s confusion and fear to cover her own – she couldn’t be scared, she wouldn’t be scared. She had to be brave, for both of them.

The invisible waves had no problem flowing into April and filling her. April became warm to the touch, lit from within. Melinda’s fingers traced her friend’s soft skin, this light pulsing through her like an imitation of a heartbeat. April felt alive.

She’d barely had chance to embrace this thought when it was gone. It was all gone. Melinda reached out her fingers to clutch at the fading comfort of this sensory bath, but it slipped through her like she was nothing.

Maybe she was nothing. Maybe this is what happened when a vampire died. Without a soul there was nowhere for them to go, they simply ceased to exist.

Was it her imagination or was this old house getting draughtier?

As the blue sky broke through this hazy blanket, a threatening heat blistered her skin and burned her retinas like no brightness could.

She called out into the void and felt a warm arm loop around her waist in response. She could detect a delicate, herbal perfume that had been dabbed on to a pulse point, inches from her nose. Melinda’s whole body, starving and lost in this crazy dream, pulled her towards this solid beat, her confusion and bewilderment blurring the edges of everything she thought she knew, of all the control she thought she had. Her lips were so close to this tantalising source; she could already tell this mystery drink would be divine.

Was she dreaming? She hoped she was dreaming. She was loathe to fight it. She deserved it. Watcher, just allow her this.

The very tip of Melinda’s cold nose brushed the searing heat of flesh. Her fangs extended, that icy coldness across her skin, her eyes stinging as she changed form. But this wasn’t like her usual change of form. This was lighter, purer.

Like her whole body had been disintegrated into powder and blown apart from the core. She was aware of each fragment of her being as it floated detached from the others. She reached out to grasp the warm body before her or to find April alongside her in the aether, but her touch would not connect. She was dust, she was nothing.

She hadn’t got a cohesive thought in her head. In that moment, she simply had to let go and just…

Be.

Melinda had never really thought about what the afterlife might be like, but she hadn’t anticipated there being ceramic pigs there.

She scanned her surroundings as they pieced slowly back together, until she noticed the silhouettes of three men. Their voices exploded into her consciousness, like someone had just turned the volume up. The first one most definitely a stranger, but the other two…

“Seriously; everyone knows you don’t click the ads,” rang the youthful drawl she didn’t recognise. “The ads are bad. Aw shoot; not this virus again. It took me days to get rid of it last time…”

“You’re a man of broad tastes, Vatore,” chimed in a softly-spoken older tone that almost sounded like… Broof? There was laughter in his words. “Very broad…”

“I’m not,” protested a deep, sizzling crackle that was definitely Caleb. Ugh. Melinda rolled her freshly-reformed eyes; all hope that she’d made it to the Good Place evaporating at his voice. “There was a woman, she made me do it. Not this woman, a different one. A younger one. Blonde…”

“I suppose ‘grey’ is almost blonde,” maybe-Broof chuckled. “And when you’re three hundred then yes, I suppose a human pensioner is going to seem young.”

“No. She was blonde,” Caleb explained. “And she was young. Twenties, maybe? I don’t know, I’m not great at that. And there were no men shown in any of the pictures; I don’t know what all those men are doing there. Well, I know what they’re doing, but I didn’t ask them to do that.”

“Ugh, Cal,” came a weary groan accompanied by lots of tapping. “How many things did you click on before I walked in?!”

“A couple,” Caleb said quietly. “…of hundred.”

“I… dude, how did you get onto this site? Wait. Did you enter my bank details?”

“No. They were already saved.”

“Damn,” new voice muttered under his breath. “That’s my §247 savings gone. Probably my identity too. No wonder Lils never let you near these things.”

Lils? Melinda thought. Lils as in ‘Lilith’? Was she here too?

“I’ll buy you a new one, Wyatt.”

“A new laptop or a new identity?” Broof joked, clearly finding the whole thing very amusing.

“I think I’m gonna have to take this out to the yard and shoot it,” Wyatt groaned. “It’s riddled.”

Melinda’s limbs were leaden, condensed. She felt sick to her stomach, listening to the distant voices of these three men intermingled with multiple robotic moans, exaggerated grunts and the kind of language that Faith so often favoured. As confusion turned to complete discomfort, another voice drifted from above her, thankfully drowning everything else out.

“Oh, for goodness sake, boys. If you must view those disgusting sites, must you do so in my kitchen?”

Three frantic faces turned towards her.

“Mum! I thought you were going to call?”

“Change of plan,” came the soft reply. Melinda rolled her head up to see that it was once again resting on a shoulder. It took her a moment to recognise it as belonging to Lilith’s friend. She dragged her gazed along the slender, powdered neck but oddly it no longer appealed. As she lost interest, she noticed April out cold on the shoulder opposite.

Lifeless, once again.

“April?” she whispered, but her voice sounded like Caleb’s and within seconds he’d pulled the limp girl into his arms and was holding her firm against him, snarling at Sage.

“What the hell have you done?!”

Melinda flinched as Caleb’s eyes glowed, but Sage was unaffected.

“I haven’t done a thing, sweetheart,” she sang. “But you can easily fix it. Take her. Hold her close, there’s a good boy. Broof dear, if you could take this shell-shocked little one through to the sitting room, look after her and Wyatt, for the love of the moon, turn that filth off!”

I’m trying!”

Melinda had never been this close to Broof; he looked so much younger than she remembered.

“Can you walk?” he asked softly.

Oh, that voice. Melinda could’ve cried. That gentle, familiar, kind voice that had opened doors and covered tracks for the last ten years of her life. Melinda couldn’t bring herself, in that moment, to wonder why he was here – wherever here was – instead of in jail, or to acknowledge that his stable pulse was sending her bananas. Relief washed over her at the appearance of someone solid and dependable, and she nodded. “I think so.”

As Broof guided her towards a door and she following trustingly, she glanced back over her shoulder to see Caleb still clinging to April, focused entirely on her. Even just this tiny action seemed to be stirring April from her daze.

The rotting fopdoodle.

Had he been here all this time? Watching gross movies and hanging out with the boys when April was snared in his trap, wilting and suffering, waiting for him? It irritated Melinda to no end that Caleb was the one who could just swan back in and be the hero. Whatever April said, however much she protested, this scene didn’t lie; Caleb was the one who April needed.

Whatever hope she had that she could save April, take her away and start again, died the moment April came back to life in Caleb’s arms.

“I missed you,” she whispered.

Melinda turned away, torn somewhere between the ultimate joy at hearing April’s voice and heart-wrenching grief at what she’d used it for. Broof gave her a look that conveyed his understanding or, at least, his sympathies. But a lifetime of being paid to know everything and say nothing was deeply ingrained into the bearded man so naturally, he didn’t speak.

Melinda was tired of it; tired of feeling like her insides were being wrung, tired of being used like a comfort blanket. And for what? For fricking what?!

I missed you.


_


Jessica had deliberated over her outfit for a good half an hour, fussing with her skirts and trying to find a blouse that didn’t look mismatched, which was hard when all she had was the clothing Pixie had dropped by for her.

Pixie was great – she’d been a lifeline connecting Jessica to the outside world – but her fashion sense left something to be desired.

Jessica selected an embroidered blouse and plain, pink tennis skirt and took one more, long glance in the mirror. She couldn’t help but let her gaze wander to her belly, still flat, wondering how long it would be before it ballooned out and forced her out of the gym and into sweatpants and baggy jumpers.

The orderly had been waiting for Jessica outside. Their patience was most unusual and it made Jessica nervous; why was it so important to look presentable for these visitors? What on earth could Gloria and Beth Wangshaft want with her?

Her visitors appeared to be having a tense exchange when Jessica entered the visitation room, Jessica could have sworn she heard the words ‘be nice or die’ but the pair fell silent as Jessica approached, further arousing her suspicion. Gloria’s face still bore that ‘something stinks’ expression, but Beth offered a cool smile, gesturing Jessica to a seat opposite that she took, tentatively.

Neither woman offered a greeting. Jessica wasn’t sure if she should speak or not but didn’t have to deliberate for long.

“I suppose you’re wondering why we’re here, Jess?” Beth said. Jessica winced at the shortening of her name. She didn’t mind being called Jess, really, more that she it felt so forced and overly-familiar in this bizarre situation. Jessica nodded and Beth smirked. “Go ahead, Glore.”

Gloria rolled her eyes. It was clear to Jessica that she was here under duress. She coughed politely and folded her hands in her lap. “Beth feels—” she began, eliciting a swift elbow in the ribs from her mumsy daughter-in-law, “Ow! Fine! We feel that Wilbur may have been rather impulsive in his judgement in sending you here.”

Jessica blinked in surprise. “You do?”

“I suppose. That is not to say that you couldn’t benefit from a little structured therapy, some guidance – ow!” she hissed as she got another elbow in the ribs. “But Beth – we – believe that can be done in a less institutionalised manner, certainly. Although we can’t be seen to be getting soft on your kind, there’s certainly capacity to reduce the situation to something less… media intensive shall we say.”

“Right, of course,” Jessica lubricated the conversation, politely.

“Goodness knows we have enough attention as it is,” Gloria continued. “With William absconding and this nonsense with the Moss girl, and now the press are sniffing around because of that police chief – Wilbur just had to visit him that morning, the blithering idiot—”

“Oh for arse’s sake,” Beth groaned. “If you beat around this bush any more, Gloria, it’ll be bald as a baby’s backside. Jess,” she said pointedly, looking directly at her. “Pack your bags and sod off.”

It took Jessica a second to recover from this onslaught of crude language before she really understood what she was being told. “I’m free to go?”

“Yep,” Beth confirmed. “And I’m hoping you’ll be happy to return to work because with Ralf being gone and all this crap happening, I don’t have time to be filing reports about shoplifting and all that other bollocks.”

“But I’ve been suspended. Mr. Wangshaft—”

“Has been overruled,” Beth snorted, gesturing between Gloria and herself. “If he thinks I’m running the WBPD single-handedly he can bugger right off.”

Jessica faltered. “You’re running the police department?”

“I am,” she muttered, “Like I’m not in charge of enough.” Beth huffed, blowing her hair from her eyes. “You’ll be working for me. Reporting to me. We’ll hire someone for patrol. You’ll be on desk duties, mostly; can’t risk any harm coming to that nooboo now, can we?” She stared Jessica down, the corner of her mouth lifted into a smile that Jessica couldn’t read. “I can probably sort out a little pay rise, too. Help you to get a nicer place. What do you say, Jess?”

Jessica clenched her jaw, her warning alarms sounding in her crowded head. Nothing about this felt right, or sat right, but Jessica was far from afraid. If she had to sum up how she felt in one word it would be: curious. Clearly, neither woman before her gave a hoot about her, or how she might be feeling about the loss of Chase, of Ralf, of being locked up and made to look in the wrong, to look crazy. This U-turn was not a move in her best interests or an act of kindness. She doubted anything the Wangshafts did was ever in kindness.

No. This was strategic and highly suspicious.

Jessica would go home, cry her heart out, plan and theorise in that order, but right now there was only one way to behave. She smiled brightly, tilting her head to convey her friendliness and reaffirm to Beth that she was the someone pliable and naïve that they clearly believed her to be.

“That sounds wonderful!” she gushed. “Thank you so much for this opportunity! I won’t let you down, Beth! Can I call you ‘Beth’? Should I call you ‘Boss’? Chief? Mrs. Wangshaft?”

“Definitely not the last one. Beth’s fine,” Beth replied tersely, Jessica’s cheer clearly grating on her. “Good stuff, Jess. I’ll see you at the station, first thing tomorrow.”

“First thing tomorrow,” Jessica repeated. “I can hardly wait!”

“Me either.”

< Previous Chapter | Index | Next Chapter >