If I were to say my little teenaged monster didn’t want to come inside Effrayant, it would be about the same thing as calling Hurricane Katrina a slight rain event. Somewhere on my latest job tracking down the incubus, she’d started acting out. When we reached the doors of Effrayant, she went from mild temper tantrums to full-on nuclear meltdown. Apparently she thought the job was too dangerous.
I wanted to tell her to suck it up and settle down, it was just a retrieval job, but she was only a thirteen-year-old girl, and dead or not, her hormones were raging. Stir in a dose of inexplicable terror, and there was no way I was going to get her to listen to reason.
The irony was that she was at least as dangerous as the incubus I was tracking. She still had a lot of PTSD issues from how she got killed. Not that I had any idea how it had actually gone down. I only knew she was pissed as hell and she had nightmares that occasionally leaked into my dreams. If any of what happened in those nightmares had actually happened to her, she had a right to her attitude. Hell, she had a right to have gone completely over the edge into insanity-land. I didn’t think she had, but it’s not like she talked to me. She didn’t talk to anybody. Anyhow, all that meant was that when she got scared, she killed first and asked questions later. Or rather, never asked questions.
So here I was, looking like a hobo with an angry, terrified, homicidal teenaged poltergeist in the nicest hotel on the east coast trying to finally corner an incubus with a stolen box full of who knows what sorts of valuables. That was the job; I was supposed to get the box back.
The chances of this going badly were growing by the second.
Tabitha’s a pretty good killer when she wants to be, which is why I was glad the security guards hadn’t bothered me. I might not have been able to hold her back without serious force, and I didn’t like doing that. It would hurt her. Plus, it reminded her and all the others that I could snuff them out without much effort.
That’s me—Mallory Jade, former exterminator. In the bad old days, if you wanted something or someone killed, for a fee, I’d kill it—from ghosts to banshees to terrorists to disgruntled employees. I don’t even know how many final deaths I’m responsible for; I don’t want to know. I quit that life, left it behind like dust in the rearview. I don’t kill anymore. I’m a fixer now. If you’ve got a problem, I’ll help you fix it, so long as I don’t take anybody’s life or half-life or dead-life. The money’s decent and I get to sleep at night.
Unfortunately these days I sleep with ghosts. They like to attach to sorcerers, which is usually guaranteed suicide. Most of us with enough power to attract ghosts also have enough power to send them off to the final death. It’s a moths-to-the-bug-zapper situation. I’m the rare exception since I’ve sworn off killing. I don’t even like binding them off so they can’t come near me. It’s not like they take up space or weigh anything, and they do have their uses.
Like helping me to fake my aural signature and making unfriendly types look the other way. Unfortunately the desk clerk looked like she wanted to pee her pants. I sighed and pushed down on Tabitha slightly. The other ghosts pressed in on her too, trying to reassure and calm her. The girl-ghost recoiled and struck back. Lightning arced through me. I turned my grimace into a tight smile and leashed her as tight as I dared. I didn’t need her flinging furniture and blowing up computers. Not that I could stop her if that’s what she really wanted to do. Or rather, not that I would.
Stopping her would violate my no-torturing policy. On the other hand, I didn’t want her killing people either. That put me in a bind because no matter what, I wasn’t going to exterminate her and that might be what it took to stop her if she went on a rampage. That meant I’d have to protect any innocent lives and reveal what I was, which would completely defeat the point of being here. On the other hand, with its particular clientele, Effrayant no doubt kept an exterminator on staff. If Tabitha went wild, she risked extermination. I wouldn’t protect her. This was her decision. Choices have consequences. You pay your money, you take your chances.
I could tell that every step I took inside Effrayant only fed her fury and panic. She clawed at me. I could feel things tearing on a metaphysical level. I was getting close to cutting her loose. Had to if I didn’t want to get torn to shreds. Inwardly I groaned. This was so not going to end well.
I glanced back at the door and away. I’d come this far. No turning back now.