"It's fine -- I know that it's my problem, Delilah -- I didn't mean to sound bitchy. It's just that being out of the loop is starting to get on every last one of my nerves." She sighed.
Ruby knocked back her wine and refilled her glass again. She'd found apparently an acceptable second bottle of wine. I wouldn't call it a bottle precisely because it was more along the lines of a jug. I'd yet to even finish half of the drink she'd poured me after topping me off. Pointing out it was only late-afternoon wouldn't have gone over really well so I kept my mouth shut.
"Where are my manners?" She finally focused on me enough to notice my suitcase at my feet and began to play hostess. She walked me through her home, showing me the various rooms and indicating which bedroom I'd use. Once I put my suitcase inside the doorway and dropped my purse on the dresser I pulled out my cell phone. I'd forgot to turn my cell phone off silent mode once I'd called in and reported the pixie on the plane. I saw that I'd missed a dozen calls and had some text messages. There had been a slew of calls that rang into the nothingness during my conversation with Ruby. Not stopping to see who'd called or messaged, I told Ruby that I'd join her once I returned a few calls.
She left me after a long searching glance. I smiled and closed the door. Grabbing out a pad of paper and pen from my purse I keyed in my code to retrieve my voice mails. They were all from various members of the committee requesting I get a hold of the main office immediately. I tapped into the text messages and saw they too were requesting I contact the office at once. I quickly dialed the main number.
"Amber Consulting Firm, how may I direct your call?" The committee really liked their shell companies. The AC Firm sounded like a support bra or the name of a mattress setting but it was the committee's current incarnation. They last were called Schroeder's Investments and Consultations. The upset of Wall Street and the up and down stock market caused them to rethink their name and change to the current firm. I often thought they had to get some really bizarre calls given their wild choices of names.
Having checked the time when I'd picked up my calls I noticed it was after five. They answered the number day or night, all sounding the same to me. "Delilah Monroe for Archibald Roberts, please." Good old Arch had left me the most calls and text messages so I figured I'd bite the bullet and just beard the old lion in his den for a change.
"One moment, let me locate your party. May I put you on hold?" The precise professional tones gave no clue as to which of the many assistants was currently answering the phones but I'd taken to calling them all Phone Operator Barbies.
"Sure," a click and then I was on hold with classical music to keep me company. It was a nice piece of music designed to calm folks phoning in and being stuck in the nether region of a call since the 'one moment' could easily be a brain-numbing ten minutes plus on a bad day.
I told Ruby years ago about my name for them. She and I figured it was perfect given their own perfection and plastic demeanor. Robotic word choices while being unfailingly polite -- I'd actually seen a few of them over the years when I'd been called on the rug for some of my reports. They were all meticulously dressed, with carefully arranged coiffures and gorgeous features artfully displayed and accented with pricey makeup and refined use of cosmetics. Not a one of them ever looked a day over twenty-five -- they all sneered at me when they thought I wasn't looking. Even though they looked otherly and picture perfect, I knew that they were actually humans.
The committee was an equal opportunity employer and tended to like a pretty façade to go with the true nature of the firm -- bounty hunters. I never asked what it was that they told the humans answering the phone that the 'firm' did. I just knew that they investigated me and judged me, without a clue why I came and went without fail. I doubted I looked anything like the rest of the bounty hunters. My lack of social graces had to be the subject of coffee talk when I left. There were usually two or three of the humans in the lobby whenever I visited. One to answer the phone while the other looked busy on the computer before looking up with an arched eyebrow to inquire why I was there. I didn't see the same ones more than a year or so in a row. Some of them overlapped, so I know I was a hot topic. Only once had I come in slimed because I'd caught an escaped fairy who decided blue-green slime was the perfect answer to my net. It's really hard to get slime off jeans much less boots. I'd shown up at my scheduled time and the two in the lobby at the time were appalled by my lack of concern for my appearance. The next month when I showed up there were two new glowering snotty faces. I figured the gals were let go with a lovely parting paycheck and a mild brain wipe.
The classical music that had been drifting through the phone lines abruptly cut off with a click and Arch bit out, "Where the hell are you?"
"In San Diego where Sam sent me last night, why?" I replied automatically while wondering why Sam Fortuna had neglected to keep his committee buddies in the loop. Sam was my official caseworker so to speak. He gave me my bounty assignments, booked the plane flights and afterward he'd be the one who collected my reports to pass on to the committee, which usually insulated me from jerks like Archibald Roberts. All my life I'd reported to Sam and thinking a second it dawned on me that I hadn't received a single message from him either voice or text. That was unusual.
"San Diego?" Archibald sounded stunned, "Sam's not answering his cell -- we have a few members heading over to his place now. Why are you in San Diego?"
"Reports of a troll being held downtown by the locals. One of the cops, who is slightly gifted, had heard of us and called in the report last night. I'm supposed to meet with the sergeant in charge after seven," I replied quickly while wondering what was happening with Sam. He wasn't active as a bounty hunter any longer, and he'd earned my respect over the years with knowing exactly what it was that I did while doing my bagging and tagging.
"Hell, you heard about your old friend Ruby yet?" He redirected while sounding gleeful. If I'd answered any of his cell calls before exiting the terminal I'd probably never have gone with Ruby. I wasn't going to admit that to him.
"I heard something went wrong in New Mexico a few months ago," I feigned ignorance to see what the party line within the committee was going to be. Considering how Arch had tried to have Ruby drained and probably killed by the 'cure' I wasn't going to lose any sleep over misleading Arch. I also realized that it wasn't going to be the same story Ruby had told me.
Archibald made a rumbling sound. It took me a minute to identify the noise -- he was kind of laughing. I didn't find Ruby's situation even remotely amusing. I found the loss of forty-five lives -- three supernaturals at that -- was horrible and not humorous at all. If we kept having these high body-count type of incidents, eventually we'd be outed for sure. Supernaturals could disappear easily without being noticed. Who was going to file a missing persons report on a troll or brownie who'd been snatched? Brownies were clannish and would take care of anyone who killed their kin without any human interference. As for a missing troll his family wouldn't do a thing to find the troll. Most trolls would just consider it better that it was 'him' not them and quickly divide up his hoard.
Trolls were pretty antisocial as a rule. Closest thing on earth to trolls had to be sharks. Sharks dropped their young and departed fairly quickly, letting them fend for themselves. Trolls were even more ruthless and left their offspring within a moon cycle to find its own little piece of the pie. Baby trolls had a ninety-five percent mortality rate. Trolls weren't happy carefree creatures from my experience. And I had plenty of experience with trolls. My official title for the crew was Troll Patrol Hunter. I'd spent most of my life chasing trolls and killing them. After all, they'd exterminated my entire family before I was ten. Ten-year-olds shouldn't grow up without family. The committee did their best, but it wasn't like having a real family. Sam thought himself a Dutch Uncle to me, while Archibald pretty much was the nasty old cousin everyone put last on their invite list and was intentionally sat at the kid's table during major family dinners.
Arch had stopped laughing and began speaking rapid fire into the phone -- obviously he couldn't wait to spill his version of the tragic events. I wasn't so sure he'd seen them as tragic but rather just another little incident to be carefully buried with some good PR and shell game moves with the bodies. He was good at hiding things.
"Delilah, I regret to tell you that dear old Ruby got herself in too deep this round. She gave herself to the current Vermilion Dynasty's bitch-in-training. Angel, Audrey, Aubrey, oh wait Aster, yes Aster Star. Who the hell keeps a last name like Star? Might as well have called her Twinkle and be done with it." He coughed a disgustingly phlegm-filled noise into my ear and then I could hear him hack out a bit of something from his chest. I didn't even want to venture a guess what, but waited impatiently for him to tell me something I didn't already know.
"Yes, poor old Ruby Galloway made a deal with the very devils that are ruining our country!" I began to tune out Arch's words. I knew his stand on 'our country' since he'd the first time he'd expounded at great length how the world was going to hell in a hand basket with the romanticizing of vampires and werewolves by Hollywood movies and liberal insane writers making a mint off the basic human naiveté and willingness to believe any fairy tale handed to them by sexy men and women in films and books. He launched into his usual rhetoric while I wondered how long my cell phone battery would last. Once he wound down with is final growl of, "In my day we'd stake and bake the 'creatures of the night' and show them who the real bosses are!"
"Uhuh, so Ruby's a vampire now?" I interrupted before he could start babbling about his band of merry misfits from the 1950s who'd run crazily through the world playing Van Helsing against the 'real red menace' and the nasty 'fur faces' which was all old news to me. He really hated vampires and werewolves -- hell, from what I heard from him, all of them were animals.
"Not yet. She's blood bound to those creatures and her soul is in question." He was smug with his words and I found it distasteful.
"What does this mean to me? You tell me she's not a vampire but bound to them. How is that possible? She's from a line of witches. They don't bind with vampires. They don't bind with anyone from what we've seen." I played the contrary one just because I could.
He sighed and said, "You don't know what you are talking about, Delilah. You are so young."
"What do you want me to do?" I didn't volunteer that I was calling from her house. I didn't want to confuse the old vamp -- what with me being 'so young.'
To be continued...
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