"I don't think I am the attraction here." I grinned and looked over at the men with their tongues practically hanging out of their mouths. Even the devout men with religious attire were standing up and taking notice of Ruby. Usually they were mulling around with their heads down, reading their various spiritual books. The airport suddenly seemed to come alive with my friend's arrival. She did have that effect on folks. Her skirt was at least six inches above her knees and she wasn't exactly a tall woman. The nylons were sheer and sparkly making her legs dance as they moved. The silk blouse topping the navy blue tight skirt was aquamarine and scooped to show the rather sizable natural breasts that were pushed up with a strong bra and a gravity-defying attitude. Ruby's mane of hair was teased and tousled to look like she'd reluctantly crawled out of bed after hours of hot sex between the sheets. Today it was caramel brown with light ash blonde streaks. Tomorrow who knew what color she'd pick. I never had seen it anything but halfway down her back so I didn't think she ever cut it short. Her hair looked like it was its own entity with free will. For all I knew it was. I never ventured to look too closely. Some things needed to stay hidden in the world, and Ruby was out there enough without my questioning her finer points as it were.
She sketched me a finger wave and said, "I must say, Hon, when I heard that you were heading over to visit my little town I thought that maybe you'd like a ride." I wasn't so sure how my job suddenly became just a 'visit,' but I let it go for now. She seemed a bit preoccupied and edgy. She wasn't exactly flirting hard and fast with any of the returning locals with computer bags slung over their shoulders and no visible wedding rings. Normally she'd be slowly licking her lips suggestively and making sleepy eye contact drawing them to her.
Like I mentioned, things had this way of just happening around me. I didn't question how she'd known or who'd mentioned my visit. I didn't think she was on speaking terms with most of the committee, but then Ruby had her own network of friends and contacts. Her current distracted state was something different for her. Usually she'd be peppering her casual flirting with direct probing questions about my life.
"Sure. So when did you move here?" Last time we'd met up she'd been living in New Mexico up in the mountains near Taos in a commune-styled home.
Ruby's face took on a stormy aspect and she snarled, "Eight months, three weeks and five days -- not that I'm counting." Uhuh, I wasn't going to challenge her on that, but please!
"Oh, do I ask anything more or just let it be?" I offered softly since Ruby could be rather touchy.
"No, Delilah, you'll hear sooner or later. It's not like it's this huge secret," Ruby looked pensive and to my amazement glanced around to see if anyone was actively listening.
"Okay, so?" I asked.
She'd said my name twice in less than ten minutes, so I knew she was very nervous. It also dawned on me that she'd used my full name when greeting me, which sat oddly in my stomach. Names had power and we rarely used each other's full names in public. I waited while following her legs scissoring along at a surprisingly fast pace for a short woman in heels. She really could move.
"Let's get in the car first. The damn airport has more bugs than a Florida swamp. And they aren't repelled even a bit by sprays and poisons." She cast an angry glance at the nearest light post and I could see there was a camera high up pointed towards the lot.
I resisted waving and simply followed her. She flipped her finger on her key fob towards a dark-colored four-door car and chirped off the alarm and automatically unlocked the doors. We tossed my travel bag in the backseat. She negotiated out of the parking lot after paying the extortion fee to park in utter silence. I waited for her to hit the freeway, knowing she'd talk when ready. Once we were weaving in and out of traffic she started telling me about New Mexico.
"You know I had started working with the local Rez doctors and medicine men to identify some unusual trends within the local communities that were possibly related to supernaturals and not just wayward humans with latent skills?" She waited for me to reply. She was very nervous and I found that unnerving. Ruby didn't get upset, she got even, and it didn't sound like that was where this story was heading.
"Right, you were working at Acoma and Taos when I was last there." I did remember the odd skin walkers that weren't true vampires, but the Native American kindred that turned out to be some supernaturally enhanced version. That was why I had been called in to help. Ruby had taken me to the local reservations and let me do my thing. I had been in New Mexico plenty of times before, and always had some local help. Back then it had taken me about a week but it had been a successful trip.
I'd also shut down some major nasty supernatural entities that had been playing out in the desert for fun -- and surprisingly some profit. They'd been running scams out at the casinos. Yep, money was the reason. It wasn't the first time I'd discovered that supernatural creatures had broken the committee's rules in order to make money. Supernaturals were just as greedy and mercenary as their human counterparts. Only they came loaded with an unnatural tool kit that wasn't exactly pretty or in the least nice.
"Well, after you left, I met up with a man named Garth. He was the local connection between the Taos Pueblo and the folks inside the town who'd been having some issues. He'd been running some sort of medicine man scam on the side for the tourists. Nothing totally wrong, you know, but just slightly off. He explained that he had a sick kid -- her name was Marla -- and she needed money for some exotic, rare treatment."
He sounded like a gem. I kept that to myself. Ruby always fell for the sob stories. That was part of why she was constantly in trouble with the committee and the humans. "He local or super?" I felt strangely compelled to ask. I didn't much care, but figured it added into whatever trouble she ended up working her way into with the relocation program. I also thought it was funny she ended up in San Diego, when most of the witness protection folks ended up in either New Mexico or New Jersey, with a few stray folks stuck out in Iowa and Minnesota. You knew the con man, bad employee or informant was really screwed when they got shipped to snow zones, because the further north you were shipped meant the further south your career had sunk. The committee had many folks on their payroll, and the nondisclosure rules you signed either by blood or pen were taken seriously.
"He really seemed okay. We ran around a few seasons and he said that he'd stopped all the scams for me. I thought he was a local character with a certain charm like some humans have." She stopped talking and made a major move in traffic that involved flipping off two drivers while cutting in front of a rather large semi-truck whose driver seemed to be talking on a cell phone and drinking a bottle of genuine draft while steering with his knees. I think he dropped the beer but I could've been wrong.
"So then what was Garth? You implied that he wasn't a human, yet in the beginning you hadn't known that. When you first met him he'd been running cons on the humans, I gather. I am assuming he was using his supernatural skill set when he was bamboozling the locals." I didn't wait for her reply, seeing her face; instead I added, "He didn't stop the cons for you, then?"
It wasn't a guess in so much as it was a given, but I framed it like a question just to be nice. Ruby really didn't know how to pick them. She was the poster child for poor choices and major magical mistakes. At least she seemed to land butter side up more than once, which was her best trait. Her personal radar when it came to the uncanny was poor at best. At times she was a train wreck, and I was more than a bit puzzled at how she kept breathing the air on Earth and hadn't been driven mad or disappeared. I always wondered where she hid the incriminating evidence she had on the committee members because anyone else would have long been medicated and stuffed away into some mountainside retreat with well water and candles for energy or transferred in between the worlds. Besides I well knew that banishment or death was usually the committee's method of fixing perceived problems.
"No, he hadn't stopped a damn thing. It turned out he was the damned ringleader for the ongoing problems. He worked along the lines of what you'd cleaned up -- turned out that a different group liked the results Garth was getting and they were running a very similar operation." She cut back in front of a car that had the audacity to be going a mere twenty miles over the speed limit versus the usual thirty most of the folks in the slow lane preferred. San Diego seemed to have very few cops on the freeway. It didn't really matter too much to Ruby either way. She didn't much care if a cop pulled her over to try to give her a ticket. I'd seen her talk her way out of more than one ticket.
"After the committee found out about it, the shit hit the fan in a major way. I have like another eighty or ninety years here." She sounded serious.
"Really?" I was pretty surprised. I hadn't heard of anyone getting sent for a century to any town in the last four hundred or so years. I figured there was more to the story than she'd confessed.
Looking at the palm trees and beaches in the distance I couldn't help but mutter, "Rough spot."
She nodded, either not hearing my sarcasm or simply ignoring it as she replied, "It is! The people here are all so fucking cheerful and permanently tanned. You know that 'party' is a verb? The joke is 'Hey, dude let's like party' and that's an invitation to go out. It's freaky. They treat everything like it's some joke or possibly a chance to be on a movie. I know Hollywood is only an hour or so north but the folks here are all trying to be in show biz, write for a show or just fuck a star. Star-fucking is a hobby for both men and women in this damn town."
Her mouth was getting bad which meant she wasn't happy. When Ruby was swearing profusely it usually told me how she quickly she was devolving and that she was near the end of her rope.
"Ruby, stop it." I wasn't ready for her to go postal in traffic. Her driving skills were already scary enough.
"But Delilah!" she whined and cut off three cars to make her exit off the freeway.
I looked out the window and decided to cut to the chase, asking, "How bad was the situation with Garth? Really, Ruby, no sugar coating. What was the death count?"
I stiffened, hearing her sharp intake of breath. There was a death count. I'd been fishing with the body count question but I seemed to have hit a raw nerve. Damn, that wasn't good. She thought for a second and whispered out, "Forty five deaths."
"How many supernaturals?" That would tell me how much trouble she was truly in and she hesitated before answering.
I sucked in my own share of air. Forty-two humans had died because of something she was involved with or something she did. That wasn't going to be easily dismissed by the committee. I did the mental math on her time in San Diego and spun back to her, saying, "Oh damn! That was the engine failure on the small plane just outside Colorado Springs wasn't it? Where the aircraft hit the side of a snow capped mountain and turned all the folks into dust or burned beyond all recognition?"
She muttered something. I knew it was "Yes."
To be continued...