Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Chapter One

The Witch in the Wheelchair

“Here comes a big butt bitch.”   Alice’s words attracted as much attention as fireworks in a night sky.  Like an incantation, the words slowed time and exaggerated each person’s reaction.  It allowed me to scan the reception area.  I identified each person and their purpose, healers, aids, residents and Alice in a wheelchair.  Everyone present had a legitimate reason to be in Life House, a rehab and retirement center.

A young man in pale green scrubs stood behind Alice.  He bent forward to scold the old woman, not a smart thing to do when the crone is an experienced witch.  I stepped in front of her chair and extended my arms to show a pair of elaborately carved bracelets.  He did not know me, but he recognized the meaning of the wide bands of silver decorated with etchings and jewels.  All Guardian Agents wear personalized wrist cuffs.  I nodded my head to the side that he should leave, he did.  Agents are the bogeymen used to threaten kids.

In my world, Sidhe warriors live next door to shape shifters, brownies and other beings, all with special gifts.  Once each group preferred their own neighborhoods, but interbreeding has blurred the boundaries; now everyone lives and raises families without concern over who lives where.  Most get along despite their differences.  When someone disrupts society, the ruling council, the Guardians, send someone like me to solve the problem. 

Alice watched me for a reaction to her unusual welcome.  Her smile stretched to show short white teeth, the only smooth surface in the wrinkled road map of her face.  Her color was grey; frizzed hair, raggedly cut short, tiny watery eyes and paper-thin skin, all dappled shades.

“Alice, wear your glasses.  My butt is not big.”  

 “Agent Stone, you’re ok being called a bitch, but you’re worried about your looks?”

“Bitch is a title I’ve earned. Use it with reverence.  Yes, I care about my looks I am a woman.” 

“You don’t dress like one.”  She stared at the toes of my dusty black boots and moving her gaze upwards, inventoried my appearance, black slacks, a white button down cotton shirt and a black leather blazer that did not meet her sense of style.  Her face broadcast her disapproval.

 “Alice, it’s surprising that no one’s killed you yet.”     
 “Is it a pleasant surprise?” She smiled again, bigger and more annoying.

I shook my head, “Nothing related to you is pleasant, especially not the bad news.”

“Bad news?   If you mean about the accident, you’re slow with your sympathies, it happened a week ago.” 

“It’s been four days and the bad news is that the explosion did not kill you.”

Alice’s smile disappeared.  She jerked off the white thermal blanket covering her lap.  Bandaged stubs extended just below the knee length hem of her hospital gown.  Trapped under debris from the blast, her legs suffered damage beyond anything a healer could repair.  “I lost my legs!”  

It was hard to decide which was colder, Alice’s tone of voice or the look in her eyes.  I‘ve faced scarier things.  I stared back.  She blinked first. 

She took several minutes to rearrange the blanket over her lap. I waited.  I’m good at that. When your expected life span is exceptionally long, you learn patience.  My Pops is an angel and passed along his good genes.  I can be killed, but not easily.  You could ask those who tried and failed, if any were still alive.

Alice was done playing games, “Stone, why are you here?”

“I’m  investigating the destruction of your home. That means I ask questions and you answer truthfully.  Let’s get comfy and chat, maybe we can become BFFs?” I mimicked her smile all teeth and frosty eyes.  Alice and I would never be friends.  

Our relationship is a history of me investigating complaints about her.  I researched every case and then settled the dispute.  So far, never in Alice’s favor.  We each have excellent memories and can happily recall every insult we passed back and forth. 

No torture could make me admit that we are more alike than different.  We are both loners.  Few people matter to me and I keep my personal life private.  It’s safer for my friends.  

Before the explosion drained her ability to alter her age, we even looked similar; each almost six feet tall, pale skin, grey eyes, and short dark hair.  Then she wore revealing clothes, too much make up and was prettier, but I’d bet she used glamour magic.

I pushed Alice’s chair down the hall to her private room where I closed the door.  Too many characters in this place had supernatural hearing. To create a calm ambiance, the institution’s decor was blah beige, and barely there pastels of pink and blue.  Alice’s few personal belongings that survived were scattered throughout the room adding bold splashes of orange, yellow, and purple.  I positioned her facing a faded floral print chair so we could both sit.

Alice grilled me, “Why are you assigned to my case?”

I wondered what I should tell her.  Information is power, and this old hag knew how to use power.  Would it complicate things, if Alice knew black magic destroyed her home and that the Guardians believe her innocent?  I didn’t agree, but I’m not in charge. “The Captain thinks this assignment will add to my job skills.”

She laughed.  It was ugly, like the hairless Sphynx cat that lay in the middle of her bed.  “You need to learn more ways to kill people?”

She shrank when I leaned forward and gripped the arms of her chair.  My jacket pulled against a bandaged shoulder, reminding me of an injury from this morning’s assignment.   I sat back and tried to relax, I failed.  “I only kill when necessary to save innocents from monsters like you.”

Alice’s anger heated and sparks flashed between us.  She spit each word at me, “I am not a monster.  You’ve interfered with my business, but you don’t know me.”

“I know enough not to trust you.  I’m stuck with your case, because I do know you.  I know your history and your eagerness to break the rules.  When a client cannot get any other witch to work with them, why do they end up at your door?”

 I visualized Alice’s record and coldly recited the facts.  “You were the only child of Charles and Miriam Lowell.”

The floating sparks flared into small flames, “Stop!  You have no right to say their names!”

Paranormal theatrics do not scare me, I continued, “A drunken college boy crashed his corvette into a restaurant where you and your parents were eating.  They died and you inherited more money than you could spend in multiple lifetimes.  After the drivers’ fraternity mysteriously burned down with him inside, you left town.”

“I had nothing to do with that!” Alice’s grey face was now red, burning bright as I heaped more fuel on the fire.

“You traveled seeking experts in longevity.  Eventually you returned home looking twenty years old and never aged, not until the explosion destroyed your house.  There is no evidence of a gas leak or other structural defect to blame. The Guardians believe someone used black magic.  What do you think?”  

Her eyes still blazed, “I would never do anything to end up crippled.  Do you think I would look old if there was anything I could do to change it?” 

I allowed disgust to show on my face, “Were you working black magic and lost control?”

“No!  Not all my clients wear white hats, but I am not a black witch.”

One of my talents is reading auras.  I can tell if someone is lying.  I hid the shock that Alice was telling the truth.  Her aura burned with the pain of reliving her parents’ death and sincerity.  

Why does it surprise me that the Guardians are right and that I am wrong, again? 

Alice was not stupid.  She knew I was holding back.  She did not expect me to believe her and wondered what my next step would be.  She decided on a new tactic, either to gain information or to get rid of me. “Be useful; get me a pot of hot water for tea and a lot of pain medication.”

I stood and walked to the door. “Ordering me around is a waste of breath and a really bad idea.  If you need something, use the call button.  The staff here will take good care of you.  Try something new for you; try to behave.”  

Alice spoke when I opened the door, “Stone, change the bandage on your shoulder.  Your energy leaked onto my chair.”

Damn, witches, they always get the last word.  Sometimes, it is easier to kill something than to save it.