Thinking about her fairly recent relocation I asked, "Who'd you get to take the blame in Taos, Ruby?" There was no way the committee thought she was completely at fault if she was just banished to San Diego for a century. Forty-five bodies and three of them had been supernaturals -- not good. Add in that it was on the nightly news with supernatural creatures being involved had me more than a little spooked.
"Garth and Marla took most of the blame. They both were part of the body count." She did a sharp turn in the middle of an intersection and nearly took out an oncoming car that had the right of way. They indicated their displeasure with a variety of single fingered gestures and some punctuation done with the horn and brakes. Thankfully no guns were brandished, but the night was still young so there was no telling with Ruby behind the wheel.
"But, Delilah, it turned out that Marla wasn't really his kid, but like his wife of over twenty years. She'd had some curse put on her that kept her locked in a sickly child's-sized body. It was totally gross." Her voice was angry and she looked put out at being deceived, but then I didn't even want to ask anything more about the old married folks. She'd figure it all out some day. Ruby never wanted any advice; I'd found that out over the years. She just wanted to have an ear to bend. I just wanted to get my job done, and head out of town before I got suckered into some mess of Ruby's making.
"Okay, who was the third supernatural killed? And please tell me, Ruby, exactly what flavor of supernaturals were they all?" I figured I needed to figure out how much trouble she was really in before too much more time passed.
Gossip had a tendency to be less than helpful in our magical supernatural circles. We were all such arrogant creatures with our own agendas and reasons that it was nearly comical at times. The embellishments were usually more creative than the actual events and nearly always more damaging. Ruby had her share of friends, but her enemies were growing in numbers as she kept having these, at times, preventable disasters. I wanted to know just how bad of trouble she was in before I talked with any of the committee again. They liked to shoot the messengers and any known associates in the wars. And it sounded like Ruby had some sort of war or at least drawn some lines in the dirt marking off the territory. I doubted she'd be able to go back to New Mexico for a dozen or so years -- that was if she was even allowed outside California. Looking at the tightness around her eyes I corrected that mentally to outside of San Diego County. Eight months later and her leash was still pretty tight. She had more to tell me. Mentally I shook my head at Ruby's latest mishap.
She yanked the wheel hard and we were soon rushing down a narrow lane. The trees were large lining the street and the houses looked to be from the forties and fifties. They were set back somewhat from the road with small yards. I didn't see many people outside but the yards looked fairly well tended with small shrubs and pretty little happy faced flowers -- like pansies or something -- that were lining the walks and edges. The lawns were all carefully manicured to some pretty, preordained, precise measurement that only the neighborhood knew. The bungalows and duplexes were breezy and casual structures with joy and happiness shining out of windows. Basically it looked like there were only happy, well-adjusted folks living in the neighborhood.
I think my jaw dropped open when she pulled into one of driveways and flipped down her visor to push on a small black device that immediately started mechanically rolling up the garage door. I quickly figured out it was her house, and thus in her hand was her remote. She then drove quickly into the large empty space inside the enclosed garage, belying her maniacal road work moments before we hit her house. She pushed the button on her garage remote and we were sealed inside with a running engine. She turned off the car carefully and she finally replied, "Well it turned out that Garth and Marla really were some sort of skin walkers. Just not very good ones."
I let that roll around in my brain and waited for the other shoe.
"But their teacher was someone known amongst the Native American bands and tribes and prominent in the local business community." She paused and got out slowly. I exited the car and grabbed my suitcase. I gathered I was to stay with her. I still didn't know if the committee had sent her or she'd just shown up because she'd heard I was coming into town. Either way I wasn't going to head outside to find a cab in this city. One of the times that I'd been here before it took three hours for a cab to show up. The bad thing was that I'd actually called the company and ordered a car in advance. I quickly figured out that in San Diego you either drove your own vehicle or walked.
We weren't that close to the major hotel chains from what I'd seen during the drive so I just went with the flow, as the native surfers would say. The committee didn't usually care where I slept as long as I got the job done. Also the fact that I didn't make any 'waves' for them kept the committee happy and off my case for the most part. I wasn't always successful, but at least unlike Ruby most of my mistakes hadn't made the national news. Ruby tended to have globally noticeable incidents that were often covered by CNN and local news crews. Not a good resolution for the magical stuff we fumbled with to keep quiet and out of the public awareness.
She unlocked the door into the house from the garage and I followed, waiting for her to say a name. I gathered that I'd recognize the name from how she was pussyfooting around the topic. Light switches were unnecessarily flipped since there was plenty of ambient light coming from the windows and skylight. Sunset took time on the West Coast and besides both of us could see rather well in the dark. She was delaying the inevitable. Automatically I slipped off my sunglasses and checked out the view, while assessing the possibilities of being seen or anyone out there wanting to harm us.
Ruby stopped at a small niche inset just off a bit from the entryway and lit a thin, tapered candle. She allowed the flame to glow and then pulled out another matchstick and lit a fresh cone of incense. The soft scent of sandalwood drifted to me and I felt her relax. She murmured a soft incantation and the candle flame blazed bright saffron then green.
"Good, no intruders." She looked up at me and smiled widely, even while we both knew her methods were frowned upon by the committee.
I suppressed a shudder as I realized Ruby was still using magic in her daily living. Magic for every day was considered inappropriate at best. She seemed unconcerned at being reported or caught. That kept ringing my bell and concerned me.
She turned back to me and said, "Albrecht Schlesinger."
"You are kidding me right?" I was stunned. The Schlesinger family wasn't just connected but rather well connected with some major hitters in the committee circles and the human world. I was pretty surprised she wasn't already dead.
"Delilah, they are all amazingly talented at hiding in human forms for decades." She seemed delighted to inform me then continued, "The skin walkers I'd met before always seemed off-kilter and stilted in their movements and motions, and that wasn't the case with Garth. He was pretty damn smooth. You know what I mean, how we can pretty much smell the animals beneath the skin. Then when Garth added Albrecht to the mix at that 'healing' party and everything fell apart. I found out later that Albrecht had turned against his family four decades ago and was considered rogue. That's part of the only reason I am still alive." She answered my unasked question.
"But still," I trailed off, not sure what more I could say or even ask.
"Yeah, Delilah, I know. I wasn't aware of the connection until everything started falling apart." Now she shuddered.
Even though I felt her pain growing, I found that I was automatically mentally distancing myself from her. I didn't really need her pain but a small part me still of wanted to help her if I could. She kept using my first name and it was freaking me out but I nodded and let her continue.
"They were conducting a 'crossing over ritual' was what Garth had told me. He told me it had nothing to do with the scams but a necessary ritual. I still hadn't realized he wasn't a vanilla human at that point. The crowd wasn't huge but they were strong in purpose. The meeting, held in some hall like the kind run by the Shriners or Elks, was explained to me that they were bringing souls between the curtain to shower love and light to the ill and sick. I was in the wings of the auditorium watching everything and trying to find out why the energy had started to burn so brightly around Garth. He was vibrating and glowing. I'd never seen him do that prior to the ceremony. Marla was convulsing on the divan they had her resting on when Albrecht appeared in the middle of a stage. They used some paltry magician's tricks with light, smoke and mirrors. Albrecht appeared in full Native American ceremonial attire-- leathers and feathers you know -- and red flames. It was pretty damn effective.
"By then the audience was sobbing and tossing money and jewelry at the coffers scattered around the site like it was their job. I even saw some gal write a check and toss it into the bucket -- who brings their checkbook to a ritual? It was then that I saw that something had crossed over right behind Albrecht. As Albrecht walked towards the crowd this creature came from the same trap door beneath the stage dragging its body upwards and it kept getting larger until it towered over everyone. It wasn't anything remotely human. Hell, it wasn't even from between the worlds. Delilah, it was absolutely horrific. I've seen some nasty creatures, as you know, but this was a step past anything I've ever seen before or since. This creature was hungry and alert. But the creepiest thing was that it was very aware of the humanity gathered inside the room. The creature acted like they were personal offerings, and then when it began to soul-suck every living thing in the room, I figured out that was precisely what the people were. Offerings." She paused and went to her kitchen. Without a word she pulled down two ornate silver goblets from a shelf and filled them from a bottle of lightly corked red wine sitting on the counter. Standing at the high kitchen counter I looked at her, stunned by her disclosures.
Hoisting the cup to me, she silently toasted and sipped at the rim. I also saw that she'd nibbled off some of her red lipstick, for Ruby that was as good as her walking out of her bedroom half-naked. She layered her lips lushly with bright shades, always. I cautiously sniffed before committing any of the liquid to my mouth. It resonated pure and clean -- simply a good Cabernet. Once we'd had a sip or three she continued.
To be continued...